The concept that informs Whitewash is the analysis of Portuguese notions of race initially formed during the sixteenth-century Portuguese maritime expansion but still present in the nation’s ideologies.
Starting in the late 1400s with the arrival of Vasco da Gama’s ships in India, and continuing well into the 16th century with the establishment of commercial outposts along a number of coastal areas in the Indian Ocean, the interaction between the Portuguese and the non-Western world had a significant impact on the cultures of all nations involved. With this project I reflect on the implications of present-day interpretations of the 15th– and 16th-century Portuguese maritime “discoveries.” While they had a major impact in bringing theWest and the East closer together, they also facilitated the slave trade and colonization. The celebration, in Europe, of the 500th-anniversary of these “discoveries”, closely followed by the 400th-anniversary celebration of Jamestown in the United States, provided an opportunity to reflect on how this historical period is represented today and on how these representations may continue to shape present-day understanding of colonialism and race—particularly whiteness.
The paintings in Whitewash seek to contribute to this reflection by bringing together three central and inter-related elements of the Portuguese discoveries: the ocean (the way to expansion), the maps (the records of that expansion), and whiteness (the racial formation resulting from that expansion). These three elements are, therefore, the metaphors that anchor this project. The paintings are done over reproductions of sixteenth-century maps documenting the contemporary Portuguese presence in the oceans of the world. These maps, selected from the work of early-modern Portuguese cartographers, are painted over in different values of white, their surface eroded in order to problematize the very concept of whiteness. At the bottom and/or sides of the paintings there is an area in a deep blue-green color representing the ocean and evoking the notion of a seaborne empire central to the 16th-century Portuguese concept of nation.
To view the online installation of the full project, please follow this link.
For a photo-essay of a personal reflection on race, please follow this link.