Publication Date

April 2015

Advisor(s)

Jennifer Tucker

Major

College of Social Studies

Language

English (United States)

Abstract

Images of India range from depicting the grotesque to dramatizing the gorgeous, from etching the uncouth to sketching the unbelievable, from portraying the patrician to painting the paternalistic, and from visualizing truth to rendering falsity. Admittedly, the inherent dynamism of India’s centuries-old visual history is nothing short of extraordinary. Inextricably entwined with the rich diversity of India’s enduring visual culture is the multifaceted course of India’s social history, stretching from the Gangetic tradition of the Indus Valley Civilization in 3300 BCE to the BJP-led, relentlessly progressive iteration of modern India in 2015. Over this series of millennia, Indian people and their images have been dominant and dominated, victorious and victimized. Tracking this constantly active narrative, images of India recount the nation’s history with vivid color and a vast aesthetic vocabulary, depicting all that India is and was with visible self-awareness. One abundantly significant moment in modern Indian history is the epoch of the British Raj, a period emerging in the aftermath of the Uprising of 1858 and lasting until Partition in 1947. Over the course of this period, India was uncritically subject to the socioeconomic and political paramountcy of the British Empire and then, as the influence of the Raj waned in vigor, India began to liberate itself from the controlling yoke of extrinsic dominion. A period of seismic social transition, the British Raj era saw India go from embracing the patrician reverence of anglophile Indian opinion under the thumb of the Raj regime to harnessing the burgeoning legitimacy of the vox populi that rose in intensity as India surged toward self-rule. The iconography of the era, richly diverse in its portrayal of the colonized and colonizing realities that characterized the Raj’s ebb and flow, garners meaningful symbolic value to this day. By studying key examples of British Raj iconography that manifestly show the formative and reflective aspects of British rule in India from the middle of the 19th century to the incipience of the 20th, this thesis hopes to create original analytical value at the intersection of postcolonial theory and visual culture.

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