Plattsburgh State University, Home Page What is a Trade? Home Page
PSU,Museum Home, What is a Trade?, Exhibition
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The Face of Trade

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First Sight

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Global Trade

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Ships Carry Ideas

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Local Knowledge

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Weddings on Hold

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When Vasco Found India, What Got Lost?

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Surya Paints

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What Is A Trade?

Donald Fels in collaboration with four signboard painters in India have created a story that illuminates the underlying realities of trade and globalism. These designs, originating with Fels, were executed by the signboard painters in a technique that has virtually disappeared from use today due to the proliferation of digital signboard production.

Stephanie A. Stebich, Director – Tacoma Art Museum

Link to: Tacoma Art Museum

Since 1990, NORTHWEST ARTIST DONALD FELS has been creating innovative and compelling work that explores the link between trade and culture and examines connections between art and economic and cultural history in Asia, Europe, and the United States.

Our project with Fels is particularly timely. With issues of globalization, free trade, and expanding technologies affecting our daily lives, Fels’s investigation into the historical origins of international trade underscores how people living and working in the Northwest are responding to shifting economic opportunities. As a city with a major international port serving as a gateway to Asia and Alaska, Tacoma is a perfect setting for exploring the kinds of global concerns raised by this body of work. What Is a Trade? finds and creates links between the residents of Puget Sound and the artisan painters of Kerala, India.

Collaborations, by Samuel K. Parker, University of Washington, Tacoma

Link to: University of Washington, Tacoma

Historically, Different Human Groups have interacted in many ways. International, or cross-cultural, collaboration is one model. However, it is far less common than competitive interactions in which one group seeks dominance and advantage over another through trade and diplomacy or, where those fail, through threats and eventually military force. The paintings produced by Don Fels and his South Indian collaborators not only are about global interactions but are the product of a certain type of interaction that, by example, serves as an indirect critique of the competitive, adversarial modes of contemporary international relations that many of us take for granted as normal or inevitable or both. Competition, in both violent and nonviolent forms, may indeed be normal, but it is not the only, or even the best, way for human groups to engage each other.


Photo: Sign Painters
From left to right: Paul, Raju, Jiju, Surya

K.A. MOHDYOUSUF (Kalapuraikal Abu Mohdyousuf)
Is known as Jiju. Born in 1983, he was the youngest of the crew working in the studio, but his help was pivotal. Jiju speaks Hindi, Tamil, and English and can read Arabic. Hired at first to help part-time with translating, he later became the manager of the studio. Though he is interested in visual art, his passion is language, and he is now completing is studies at Calicut University toward a bachelor’s degree in literature. He hopes to become a journalist.

P.M. NOUFAL (Palliparambil Mohemmed ali Noufal)
Born 1979, is known professionally as Surya. He has been drawing and painting since he was a child and has been paid to do so since he was twelve. He studied with Nandan, a master painter, at the ‘Chitrashylam School of Arts for three years, leaving before graduating. Since 1996, he has run a small Cochin shop called Surya Arts, which specializes in small signs, banners, and other graphic works.

P.D. Paul (Payyapiddi Devalia Paul)
Born in 1964, is known professionally as Paul. He graduated from Kannur Arts College. He painted billboards for six years before being laid off. He has done commissioned sales work to earn a living since billboard work has become scarce.

N.K. RAJU (Nedumpurathittayid Kumaran Raju)
Born in 1960, is known professionally as Raju. He has a small sign shop, Sindhooram, which turns out “name boards” as needed for city offices. He loves doing billboards but can no longer get such work.

Photo: Painters in the godown
Painters in the godown

Photo: Surya

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College Auxiliary Services, and the Friends of Art.

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Last Updated: February 16, 2012
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