Press Release

Following Keg de Souza’s acclaimed installations in Australia, North America and Asia, the artist will unveil her first major exhibition in the UK as Shipping Roots opens at Inverleith House, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE). Addressing the deep colonial legacy of the RBGE plant archives Shipping Roots relates stories of plants to the artist’s own cultural removal—drawing from her lived experiences as a person of Goan heritage whose ancestral lands were colonised, to living as a settler on unceded Gadigal land in, the place known by its colonial name, Sydney.



International exhibitions

International Archives 1st half of 2023

Keg de Souza, Shipping Roots

Inverleith House, Edinburgh (United Kingdom)

24.03 - 27.08.2023




As artist in residence at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh Keg de Souza spent much of 2022 studying the research institute’s living and preserved collections in preparation for her striking exploration of colonial legacies through the movement of plants between the UK, India and Australia. Shipping Roots shares lesser-known plant stories moving over oceans and lands highlighting not just the political impact of these plants but also the impact on climate. de Souza has shown internationally at the Sydney Biennale, Setouchi Biennale, Japan, Jakarta Biennale and Auckland Triennial.

The result is an expansive exhibition curated by Emma Nicolson for the Climate House programme. The movement of plants throughout the British Empire is explored including eucalyptus, prickly pear and the many seedlings transported to the UK embedded in sheep fleeces known as “wool shoddy aliens.” Shipping Roots sees the gallery spaces of Inverleith House transformed, from whole eucalyptus branches taken indoors to host arboreal listening posts to cochineal dyed batik artworks and play spaces for children to engage with the materials and stories of the exhibition and well as the opportunity to share rare botanical illustrations.

These lesser known stories include Blue Haze, the journey of the Eucalypt away from its culturally significant context—the Aboriginal land it comes from—at the hands of the British, and spread across the globe to eventually cover a land mass area over 22 million Hectares worldwide, leading to devastating impacts such as lowering water tables and increasing fire risk. The plant which has displaced native species in India and around the world in Australia is a very culturally and environmentally significant plant. Blue Haze balances these contrasts through sharing stories of Aboriginal elders as well as botanical insights.

Green Hell explores the failures of the British to establish a cochineal dye industry within their Empire, for wealth-building—and to dye their Redcoats the colour of blood. Prickly pear carved out scenes of Empire in multifaceted ways. As an early coloniser it arrived on the First Fleet, introduced into Australia as a habitat for the cochineal insect, and used as an agricultural fence to divide up stolen land. It thrived in drought-tolerant conditions, propagated rampantly and rapidly—overtaking the land and overshadowing native species—covering an area larger than the size of the UK only a few decades after its introduction. At the same time in India, the East India Company’s cochineal ventures were a different series of missteps and mishaps—from years of failed attempts to get cochineal insects across the sea to the subcontinent, to eventually introducing the wrong species of the insect and producing a lesser quality dye there was no market for. Their attempts in both locations were a spectacular failure, leaving lasting impacts on the land and landscape.

Fleece Fugitives looks at how the movement and spread of plants has not always been intentional. When the fleece of Australian sheep made their way across the seas the British had originally brought them over on some were carrying native seed hitchhikers, or fugitives, hidden amongst them. The woollen industry in Scotland enabled these seeds to escape through effluent from the mills and the wool waste, “wool shoddy” which had the “alien” seeds hidden within. These seeds propagated around the mills, an effect of industry, and went out to diversify the landscape.

Shipping Roots draws on de Souza’s holistic practice engaging temporary architecture, politics of food, and radical pedagogy to explore colonial impact on place and communities. A series of talks and events will accompany the exhibition as will an illustrated reader featuring texts by the artist and other voices who have contributed to the exhibition. Full details will be available on the Royal Botanic Garden website. The exhibition will also be part of the 2023 Edinburgh Art Festival.

Keg de Souza (born 1978 Australia) is an artist of Goan ancestry who lives and works on unceded Gadigal land and explores the politics of space through temporary architecture, radical pedagogy and food/plant politics. This investigation of social and spatial environments is influenced by architectural training, squatting and organising, as well as personal experiences of colonisation—from her own ancestral lands being colonised to living as a settler on other people’s unceded lands. Keg often creates projects that focus on pedagogy to centre voices that are often marginalised - for learning about Place and holds a PhD through the Wominjeka Djeembana Research Lab, MADA, Monash University.

Keg de Souza, Blue Haze, 2023. Installation view, Inverleith House, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2023. Photo: Ruth Clark.

Keg de Souza, Blue Haze, 2023. Installation view, Inverleith House, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2023. Photo: Ruth Clark.

Exhibition 24 March -27 August 2023. Inverleith House, Inverleith Row, Royal Botanic Garden - Edinburgh EH3 5LR (United Kingdom). Open daily 10.30am - 5.15pm. Free entry.






Keg de Souza, Shipping Roots, Inverleith House, Edinburgh, United Kingdom

© ArtCatalyse International / Marika Prévosto 2023. All Rights Reserved