San Francisco based, Portuguese artist Ricardo Goureia, known by his artist’s name Rigo 23, creates works that excavate unknown or less-known histories of Fort Kochi. Each individual work in Rigo 23’s “Kochi Tower” installation at the abandoned boat jetty at Calvathy Canal represents narrated a very important event in the colonial histories of Kochi. Spending about a month in Fort Kochi, the artist not only researched such histories, he collected oral narratives from local people. His first installation showcased the violent side of Vasco da Gama, who is hailed in Eurocentric accounts as a great explorer. While the locals in Kochi know such “official” accounts of Vasco da Gama’s voyages and how they remain valuable to “heritage” tourism, they also narrate undocumented stories of the man’s eccentricity and brutality. Rigo’s second installation presented another remarkable history that challenges Portuguese histories of Cochin and its political economy—the dastardly attack on a host of unarmed Muslim pilgrims setting forth for the most joyous moments of their devotional lives that effectively ended Muslim control of the spice trade, even as it announced the unholy violence of European hegemony.
Rigo 23’s third installation was the headless wooden figure of Kappiri. To create this work, the artist sculpted wood salvaged from the frame of an old Chinese fishing net found near Fort Kochi. Rigo 23 told me that he was fascinated with the remains of the frame and what it suggested of earlier industry, and he was also interested in the history of the Portuguese introducing this fishing technology to the Kerala coast from their trade enclave at Macau on the south coast of China. Rigo 23’s Kappiri is a faceless figure with a long slender torso and equally slender arms and legs. The artist explained that he did not give Kappiri a face because under colonial regimes, enslaved Africans were nameless and undocumented, and their identities remain largely unknown except for the knowledge that they were captured from African coasts and brought into the Indian Ocean World to perform distressingly hard labor. As a means to represent such toils and travails, he gave the figure long legs and arms. During creation of the work, Rigo 23 was unaware that during the Portuguese and Dutch periods, enslaved Africans operated the heavy Chinese fishing net. Rigo used old wood particularly to show the wear and tear of time, but other traces of unknown histories were made evident as well.
Reflecting on his complex installation, Rigo 23 explained to me that his intention was to create a work that resonates with multi-textured histories and so produce a “travel in time” device, as he called it. His works are echoes of histories, he continued, because they narrate histories that did not make it to the record books and archives, but are still recalled as oral narratives. In entitling the installation “Kochi Tower,” Rigo 23’s intention was to reverse the dynamics of the Belame Tower of Lisbon. An outlandish Baroque structure, the tower was constructed to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Portuguese discoveries such as those of Vasco da Gama’s visits to Kochi. “Kochi Tower” was an ephemeral structure meant to narrate alternative histories to received panegyrics of Portuguese triumphalism.