Pushpamala N began her career as a sculptor before turning to photo and video performances. Her first photographic work was the ‘photo romance’ Phantom Lady or Kismet (1997), a film noir style adventure about a pair of lost and found twins set in Mumbai where Pushpamala played both characters.
Since then the artist has done a series of masquerades where she simultaneously inhabits and subverts iconic images, from Ravi Varma oleographs to ethnographic photographs from colonial India. Displayed at the Biennale, the photographic work The Arrival of Vasco da Gama (after an 1898 painting by Jose Veloso Salgado) (2014) recreates an 1898 history painting Vasco da Gama perante o Samorim by Portuguese painter Jose Veloso Salgado which depicts Vasco da Gama’s first meeting with the Zamorin of Calicut. Created 400 years after the actual event, the painting celebrates Gama’s arrival in Calicut-a much mythologised event in Portugal even in his own lifetime-and shows him addressing the Zamorin’s court, a stately European visitor surrounded by the imagined decadence of an oriental court.
For The Arrival of Vasco da Gama (after an 1898 painting by Jose Veloso Salgado) Pushpamala for the first time plays a male role as the navigator while her artist friends act as supporting cast. Around the photographs, elements of painted sets made for the photo shoot and written texts form an installation like a theatre museum. In her interpretation of the 1898 painting, the artist turns Salgado’s conception on its head; returning what is a work of imagination that has over time gained a degree of historical legitimacy, to the space of fiction and masquerade.