Contemporary Western societies’ fascination with exotic food and the knowledge of the senses is typically projected onto Other cultures. It is a nostalgia tinged by neo-colonialism that recalls the import of exotic spices and scents during the age of European empires. For example, the coffee company Nespresso uses this strategy, describing one of its flavours with the following evocative words: ‘As in the age of sailing ships, Indian Malabar Arabica beans are exposed to monsoon winds after harvest to reveal a distinguished aromatic profile, rich with cereal notes’.
One of the issues I try to explore in this research project is how exoticism, understood as a mode of aesthetic perception and representation, can contribute to decolonising the gaze. The gigantic panorama (22.5 metres wide) ‘in Pursuit of Venus [infected]’ by Māori artist Lisa Reihana, which was the grand finale of the Oceania exhibition at London’s Royal Academy of the Arts in 2018, illustrates how appropriating the visual and narrative tropes of exoticism can give rise to critical dialogue and even decolonise the gaze.