‘Karkadann of Land and the Dark Seas,’ 2023 Sahil Naik

A gainda, also known as a rhinoceros, stood in the foyer of the National Museum of National History, in New Delhi. It was the state and the people’s identity of the museum. It was also one of the few specimens that survived the unfortunate, apparently mysterious fire that gutted the collection in 2016. The Museum was initiated by Indira Gandhi, in line with Jawaharlal Nehru’s modernist, secular vision for India. Gandhi, who had freshly returned from her travels for the Non-Aligned Movement and the UN, felt the need to develop a center to celebrate the flora and fauna of the South Asian subcontinent. Darkened with soot after the fire, the gainda was taken on a journey to a temporary home until a new museum was built (the need for which the government had been propagating since 2014). The rightwing has consistently attacked and demolished post-independence architecture, in a bid to erase Nehru’s legacy.


A few centuries ago, another rhinoceros, a gift from the King of Cambay in Gujarat to the Portuguese empire in Goa, left for Lisbon aboard the Nossa Senhora da Ajuda. In order to earn the favor of Pope Leo X, particularly for Portuguese explorations in the Orient, Manuel I decided to send the Supreme Pontiff an envoy of gifts. Amongst these was the rhinoceros, dressed in a green velvet collar and adorned with carnations and golden roses. The ship left Lisbon in December 1515, and never reached shore. It sank, killing everyone on board. Although rhinos can swim the animal was tied, so drowned. Its body, recovered by the King’s men, was stuffed and sent to the Pope. The Pope was not pleased. Between these two journeys, we encounter a range of rhinos across land and water, culture and politics, from the prehistoric to the modernist, in science and religion and museology. In these many forms of nationalism we trace its relationship to knowledge, power, colonialism, and fascism. Using the internal, the biological, memorial, and emotional, it attempts to conjure a diversity of histories from within the rhino, instead of its physical, exterior symbology.


Presented as an evolving essay film, the work employs the ‘rhinoceral’ to divine new worlds and associations across time, site, the dark seas, and histories. It employs the fire at the natural history museum in Delhi as a rupture in linear time, a departure, a route to encounter a range of rhinos in a range of conditions, in order to retell a history that begins with two taxidermized gaindas, separated by time. In their fate they were both tied—both literally, and to a turbulent political history—an economy of gifts and excesses, atrocities and exclusions, fear and wonder.


Sahil Naik

Read less
Social Justice
Produced by:
Curated by:
16/06 2023
Sahil Naik
‘Karkadann of Land and the Dark Seas,’ 2023
Single-channel video, color, sound
21 min 04 sec
Commissioned by TBA21 Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary for st_age in collaboration with Kochi-Muziris Biennale
Additional support by Art Encounters Biennial, Timișoara; and Experimenter, Kolkata

Camera: Kalpit Gaonkar, Abhijit Patro, Sahil Naik | Editing: Abhijit Patro, Pranay Dutta| Sound: Mihir Kothari | Animation Support: Pratik Naik, Pranay Dutta | Production Support: Rajaram Naik | Props: Sahil Naik, Sanayvi Naik, Gaurang Naik | Special Thanks: Preetesh Naik, Swapnesh Vaigankar; Madhurjya Dey, Adrian Notz, Edith Lazar, Dattaraj Naik, Prateek & Priyanka Raja & Team Experimenter

Cover image: courtesy of the artist
  • Life on land
  • Peace, justice and strong institutions