In the video above Sunoj D, a contemporary artist from India, talks about the work he produced in response to the India collection at the Natural History Museum, and discusses his inspirations.
Hortus Malabaricus volume on display in the Museum's Images of Nature gallery in 2013.
Sunoj D was born in Kerala and now lives in Bangalore. He spent 3 months at the Museum in 2012 as an artist-in-residence, researching the scientific, commercial and political stories hidden within the historic India collection cared for by the Museum, and bringing his own fresh perspective to it.
The focal point of Sunoj’s interest was the 12-volume book Hortus Malabaricus, which means ‘Garden of Malabar’. Published between 1678 and 1703, it documents 742 medicinal plants found in Malabar (now Kerala).
Over 90 botanists, physicians and artists contributed to the book, including 3 Brahmin physicians and a Malayali doctor from the Ezhava community. Sunoj says he found the political background of the Hortus Malabaricus particularly interesting because at the time the caste system was very strong, and such collaborative work never happened.
Sunoj D assembling his installation 'The Remains of the Soil from the Land Where the Sun Never Set' in the Images of Nature gallery.
During his residency, Sunoj created a graphite scroll drawing that features plants from the Hortus Malabaricus. The work, titled Somewhere Between Living and Dying, depicts the plants in wild disorder. This is in stark contrast to the way plants are catalogued precisely in the Hortus and the rest of the Museum’s India collection.
Another installation created by Sunoj, The Remains of the Soil from the Land Where the Sun Never Set, references the British Empire's extensive global reach during the 19th century (part of the territory would always be in daylight), as well as our relationship with the soil in urban environments.
Documenting our relationship with the land and how this is changing is a key part of Sunoj's work. His interest in agriculture was inspired by growing up among farmland and the fact that his grandfather was a rice farmer.
The Museum’s international artist research residency programme was delivered in partnership with Gasworks, a contemporary art organisation in London, supported by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and Arts Council England.