India by Design: Colonial History and Cultural Display maps for the first time a series of historical events—from the Raj in the mid-nineteenth century up to the present day—through which India was made fashionable to Western audiences within the popular cultural arenas of the imperial metropole. Situated at the convergence of discussions in anthropology, art history, museum studies, and postcolonial criticism, this dynamic study investigates with vivid historical detail how Indian objects, bodies, images, and narratives circulated through metropolitan space and acquired meaning in an emergent nineteenth-century consumer economy. Through an examination of India as represented in department stores, museums, exhibitions, painting, and picture postcards of the era, the book carefully confronts the problems and politics of postcolonial display and offers an original and provocative account of the implications of colonial practices for visual production in our contemporary world.
List of Figures
Introduction. Colonial Patterns, Indian Styles
1. The Indian Village in Victorian Space: The Department Store and the Cult of the Craftsman
2. “To Visit the Queen”: On Display at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition of 1886
3. The Discrepant Portraiture of Empire: Oil Painting in an Expanded Field
4. Collecting Colonial Postcards: Gender and the Visual Archive
5. A Parable of Postcolonial Return: Museums and the Discourse of Restitution
Epilogue. Historical Afterimages
Saloni Mathur is Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“Eschewing simple formulation of power's dependence on display, Saloni Mathur offers a brilliantly original disentangling of the anxious and involuted attempts to manage India as an 'aesthetic' project. Her account is rich in archival research, theoretically elegant, and exceptionally engrossing. With remarkable clarity, it opens colonial rule's 'cultural techniques' to a new set of illuminating questions.”—Christopher Pinney, author of Photos of the Gods: The Printed Image and Political Struggle in India
“India by Design is an elegant and precise book, remarkable for its conciseness and clarity. Taking a transnational perspective and deftly engaging postcolonial theory, Mathur explores not only the representations but also the representational practices that shaped imperial, colonial, and postcolonial relations.”—Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, author of Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage
“Saloni Mathur's book is a gathering of rare gifts and talents. With the subtle, searching eye of an expert curator, and the analytic skills of a fine scholar, Mathur explores the diverse scales and conflicting values of colonial design and discourse, arts and crafts. Monumental histories of museums are placed beside the petits recits of post-cards; the picturesque Victorian portraiture of Indian life makes a fine contrast with the celebration of 'modern' Indian art in the diasporic world of non-resident Indians. Always open to the lure and pleasure of Imperial display and spectacle, Mathur is equally astute about its underlying strategies of surveillance and subordination. This remarkable work is deeply engaged in the mechanics and mediations of Imperial authority and its visual signs.”—Homi Bhabha, Anne F. Rothenberg Professor of the Humanities, Harvard University
"Saloni Mathur manages to bring together remarkably diverse strands that make up the contemporary visual cultures of India and provide insights for art historians, anthropologists and cultural theorists alike. India by Design: Colonial History and Cultural Display illuminates issues that are long overdue but hardly ever addressed in the art historical circles. Mathur's command of theory is truly impressive, but even more noteworthy are her insights about Indian modernity and colonial and post-colonial institutions in and outside of the country."—Vishakha N. Desai, President, Asia Society