DisCourses of Empire, 2010, photographs, masonite
The major part of this site-specific installation is formed by the artist’s entire collection of personal and family photographs arranged on the gallery floor in the form of the map of New Orleans and its surroundings. Viewers enter the space from the direction of the Gulf and walk over the photographs/map, damaging and erasing them––in the manner of the Katrina floods––in order to view the photographs hung on the walls.
The wall photographs include The Lost Ones (2010), portrait details from deSouza’s own The Lost Pictures series (1962-65/2004-5). These began as 35 mm slides taken by his father between 1962 and 1965 in Nairobi, Kenya. The images, some taken during Kenya’s 1963 Independence Day celebrations, record a pivotal historical period of decolonization. The Lost Ones zoom in on the barely discernable portraits of the young deSouza and his siblings. Recording the present while erasing the past, the images mimic the multiple and overlapping ways in which memory dis/functions.
DisCourses of Empire additionally includes Colony, 2010, a set of photographs of cityscapes. The installation as a whole, and these cityscapes in particular, reference Thomas Cole’s 1833-36 similarly titled painting series. They also borrow their color palette and initial arrangements from Giorgio Morandi’s mid-20th century Natura Morta paintings. Cole’s series depicts one imagined location over an extended era, and follows the birth and demise of a city civilization. Morandi stages civilization as almost compulsive, life-long depictions of a limited set of rearranged objects. In deSouza’s hybrid restaging, the scene of a table-top “city”––resembling a power station or a conglomerate of oil platforms––is revisited as it forms and collapses upon itself.