THE BRITISH PERSPECTIVE
UNNAMED PIECE IN THE SPECIAL COLLECTIONS EXHIBITION 'CONJURING INDIA: BRITISH VIEWS OF THE SUBCONTINENT, 1780-1870 ARTIST: LIEUTENANT-COLONEL CHARLES RAMUS FORREST
This picture shows the common British perceptions of the Indian subcontinent. The Lieutenant’s piece depicts the nation as crumbling and in need of a revival. More specifically, large coast side towers are seen sinking into the ocean as a ship with a broken sail is perched on the water. This view allows the British to establish reasoning as to why they need to “save” India, a concept known in contemporary studies as the “white savior complex.” Of course, this only resulted in the colonization of the land that extracted precious natural resources and sent them around the world, leaving the nation regressed.
UNNAMED PIECE, 1857, ARTIST: UNKNOWN
During their colonial conquests, the British empire boasted one of the world’s greatest militaries, only rivaled by nations like the United States. This piece exemplified this truth, as it shows the mighty British using weapons like guns and bayonets while the Indians used swords and rode the more primitive horseback into battle.
Rather than viewing themselves as the oppressors, the British show the Indians at the Battle of Cawnpore as wild and eager to fight. This is important to note because it frames the narrative of British imperialism as a benevolent gift that is distastefully rejected by reluctant nations.
THE DELHI DURBAR, 1903, ARTIST: UNKNOWN
The function being depicted was held to celebrate the coronation of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. One would presume that they were exclusively the King and Queen of a European nation, but they ruled British dominions, and were therefore the emperor and empress of India. The transformation of British ideology is noteworthy, as they morphed from “wanting to build ties with India,” to ruling it.
INDIAN VILLAGERS BY GHULAM, 1815-1816, ARTIST: ALI KHAN
This painting was made by Ghulam, an Indian painter who had previously worked for the Mughal empire. He was later hired to produce paintings for the English East India Company.
This painting captures the beauty of Indian architecture and the people through a detailed depiction of clothing and home structure. Behind the quaint village is smoke that is gushing from
predictably a British factory. This tells the tale of British aristocrats who founded the English East India Company in 1600 for trade purposes, but eventually mined India for its resources like cotton and shipped it away. Post colonization, India was left bare and dry.
UNNAMED PIECE IN THE “GENDER OPPRESSION, INEQUALITY AND GENDER ROLES IN INDIA AND SOUTHWESTERN UNITED STATES: HOW BRITISH COLONIAL RULE AND AMERICAN INTERNAL COLONIALISM PERPETUATED GENDER ROLES AND OPPRESSION” EXHIBIT, 1775-1800, ARTIST: UNKNOWN
The picture above shows the gender roles of women in India, and how they were viewed as subservient to men. The frame of the picture depicts the women at the feet of the men and serves as a symbolic reminder of women’s lower social rank in India. British colonization only exacerbated this societal rank by using the caste system to separate the Indian people into classes that coordinated with different responsibilities socioeconomically. Their emphasis on economic productivity already came at a human cost to Indian people, and women were part of the economic system in terms of maintaining the population for labor and also transferring wealth through marriage.
AN ANALYSIS FOR BRITISH COLONIZATION OF INDIA
Great Britain’s pathway to maintain its wealth and influence around the world was on the labor and repression of people of color throughout the world. The exploitation of India was a prime source of monetary gain from colonization through the East India Company. The company capitalized on the raw materials in India and labor to strike territorial gain within India. Eventually, the Indian aristocracies grew impatient and anxious about the gain the EIC was making and sparked a rebellion against the company. However, the EIC had established that India was a worthy investment to capitalize and the monarchy agreed. Shortly after the EIC was disbanded, in its place was the British Raj: the colonizers who operated in India to establish political, social, and economic influence to benefit the mother country—Britain.
Similar to the relationship between American colonizers and Indigenous people, the degradation of those who were being colonized was essential in establishing the “justification” of colonization. The first painting explores the lens that British colonizers looked at India: a country that had bountiful resources, but lacked structure and proper organization. In other words, it lacked western influence. In comparison to the painting titled Indian villagers by Ghulam by Ali Khan, this painting portrays Indian villagers in their cultural living through traditional Indian architecture and clothing. The vibrant colors and light architecture serve as a beauty in the face of smoke in the background that represents British industrialization.
The existing nature of womanhood within Indian culture even before colonization was low in the hierarchy of Indian society, so after British colonization, Indian women became even less in social rank. The patriarchal structure of Indian society provided men with control over women through forced marriages and dowries, for example. Beyond the lack of mobility of social rank, British colonization reinforced the existing caste system: this system separated socioeconomic classes by the lightness of skin color. The definition of whiteness continues to influence parts of Indian society, particularly for women. In the Girlhood (It’s Complicated) exhibit at the National Museum of American History, there was a section dedicated to the beauty standards for women of color and how they’ve been defined by eurocentric beauty standards: facial features, aesthetics, and fair skin color. Indian companies like Fair and Lovely market skin-lightening products to Indian women to reinforce the notion that looking white is still preferable to looking ethnic. The history of colonialism still dominates the hierarchy of society as it did decades and centuries ago. For women of color, the legacy of colonialism continues to be a burden to progress from a political, social, and economic standpoint.