Want to know what life was like in India during the colonial period? Then check out the ‘Orientalist Archives: Indo-British Painting in Colonial India (Company School Painting from the Swaraj archives)’ exhibition at the Post Office Museum, which is part of the Serendipity Arts Festival, currently underway in Goa.
The exhibition gives a glimpse into one of the largest private collections of the Company School in India. It includes paintings in mica, watercolour illustrations of the Thiruvilaiyadal Puranam, and more.
THEMES OF THE COMPANY PAINTINGS
These paintings provide an insight into the India that existed during the colonial period. These covers wide range of subjects from local life to people, architecture, monuments, flora and fauna.
Curator of the exhibition, Dr Jyotindra Jain, explains what these Company Paintings were all about. He says that India was governed by officers of the East India Company. "There was a huge British population mostly in Kolkata, Bihar and the Union Territories, when the company began to rule India. But, as they were living in the pre-photographic era, these people didn’t have anything (such as photographs) to send back to their home," said Jain.
EVERYDAY LIFE IN INDIA
Slowly, paintings began to be patronised as there was a demand for them from the foreigners who had settled in India. They wanted to send glimpses, of this new place and its people, back to their kin in their hometowns.
And so, they began to patronise artists, who painted local themes of everyday life and people. "They painted cobblers, dhobis, cooks, etc. They saw India as a land of elephants, snake charmers, streets dancers and the like. So, you could find everyday and everyman in these paintings," said Dr Jutta Jain Nebaruer.
KNOWLEGDE PROJECT FOR THE EUROPEANS
Jyotindra also spoke about how the 18th century became an era of enlightenment for the foreigners. He said that the Europeans of this era were not only making geographic discoveries, but also gaining knowledge. “Before the 1600s, the Europeans had little knowledge about the world. And, Europeans like the Spanish, British, etc wanted to gather knowledge. So, when they came to India, they began archiving and documenting the local flora and fauna,” says Jain.
He cited a quote which said that in order to rule over certain people, you first need to have knowledge about the place and its people. Hence, learning about the local life became a general knowledge project for the European colonialists.
As these paintings were patronised by the British, they had an orientalist point of view. Jain adds, "The paintings of life in India, which they painted had an orientalist angle. It gave documentation of India, but not the real India, rather how it was seen by the foreigners."
ARTISTS OF THE COMPANY PAINTINGS
Jain also talks about the artists who were employed with the company. He says, "Works of Mughal and Islamic art appealed to the Europeans. You can find a lot of local artists who were not great or masters; they were amateur. But, they worked for the British."
AT THE EXHIBITION
The Post Office Museum covers over 400 paintings spread across various galleries.
"Here, you can find paintings made on paper, while a large number of works are done on 'mica'. Nowadays, this material is used for electrical purposes, and there are a lot of these works on mica as part of the company paintings," he adds.
FUTURE OF THESE ARTWORKS
Speaking about the future of the paintings, Nebaruer says that today, photography and printing has taken the front seat, and hence the future is uncertain. Fortunately, exhibitions such as this one give the public a peek into an essential feature of the colonial people.
WHERE: Post office museum, Panjim.
WHEN: till December 23, 2022
TIMINGS: 12 am onwards