When I was away at university, all the cool kids had art prints up on their walls: cheap, twenty-dollar reproductions of Monet and Matisse, hinting at future lives of great sophistication.
To what could I, a poor student from the benighted tropics, aspire? I looked in vain for something similarly sophisticated, but which reflected the world I knew, now so distant.
All I could find was a print of Henri Rousseau’s “The Dream,” my home as seen through the eyes of a nineteenth century middle-aged French tax collector, who’d never even been there. And so I bought it.
On days when I was very homesick, I would stare at it for hours, willing traces of myself and my home into this fundamentally foreign image. Was I the European woman or the tribal savage? I couldn’t answer, but over the years, I grew attached to M. Rousseau’s version of my world.
But it’s time now, I think, to retire the painting, or at least to talk back to it.
After all, I can speak for myself.
Launched in 2015, The Tropicalist is a consultancy that works at the intersection of the culture and the conservation movement. Through the fictional character of The Tropicalist, an explorer and natural historian, the brand exhorts its loyalists to learn about the natural environment and how it has shaped our culture.
The Tropicalist has won grants from the National Geographic Society, and we run/ are partners in conservation projects in the Himalayas and Borneo. We also host events in various cities around the world. Our online presence includes a web-based magazine and podcast. We can be followed on social media via Instagram (“the_tropicalist_”) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/thetropicalist).
Photo by Alex and Veronika. Models: Yuliana Surikova, Romit Roy and Edward Yong.