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Ghostly Unburyings and Romanticised Blooming Fields: Botanical Entanglements, Women’s Emancipation and Coloniality

Ernest Dezentié, Landscape of Java, 1925, oil on canvas. Courtesy the Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam
Corina L. Apostol looks at ‘orchidelirium’, the orchid craze that gripped Europeans in the nineteenth century, as a site of colonial extraction and botanical entanglements. The essay follows the life of Estonian-American artist Emilie Rosalie Saal, who created over 330 botanical illustrations of orchids while living in Indonesia from 1899 to 1920 with her husband, an employee of the Dutch colonial government. Through an intersectional analysis, Apostol reveals how the emancipation of a white European woman was predicated on the exploitation of and extraction of knowledge from indigenous women.