Seventy years after India gained independence, historians at The University of Nottingham reveal the acts of resistance that shaped the British Empire in India in a new exhibition at Nottingham Lakeside Arts.
From 13th April, the Weston Gallery, Nottingham Lakeside Arts will host an exhibition showcasing the history of tense negotiation, resistance and rebellion that lay behind the emergence of India as the ‘Jewel in the Crown’ of the British Empire.
Based on Manuscripts and Special Collections at The University of Nottingham’s extensive archives on colonial India, and including some treasures generously loaned by Nottingham Castle Museum, ‘Threads of Empire’ explores the rise of the British Empire in India from 1740 into the 19th century.
The letters, photographs, maps, newspaper reports, original artwork, and objects reveal the fragile terrain of British imperial power in India from the perspective of both the rulers and the ruled.
Many of the original archival documents belonged to the first Governor-General of India, Lord William Henry Cavendish-Bentinck and have never been on public display. British presence in India began in the 17th century with the East India Company’s establishment of coastal trading bases exporting cottons, silks, calicoes and tea. Yet behind ceremonies and gifts exchanged between the East India Company and Indian princes lay dissent and distrust that eventually developed into full scale rebellion during Bentinck’s Governorship.
Kathryn Steenson, Archivist at Manuscripts and Special Collections, said “British rule in India always appeared stronger than it actually was. The documents show that those in charge were acutely aware of how precarious their hold was, more than a century before the Indian Independence Act came into force.”
The exhibition features letters from outraged Indian princes, accusing the British of deceit and duplicity.
One highlight is a 19th century sabre on loan from Nottingham Castle Museum, which was taken by a British soldier as a war trophy from a defeated Indian military officer. Other treasures on display include a petition against outlawing sati (the practice of burning widows on their husband’s funeral pyre).
Also showcased is a specially-commissioned artwork inspired by the archives, ‘Tangled Freedoms I, II & III’ created by a local textile-art collective, Infinite Threads. The triptych was funded by a grant from The University of Nottingham’s Pro Vice Chancellors’ Fund.
‘Threads of Empire: Rule and resistance in colonial India’ has been jointly curated by Manuscripts and Special Collections at The University of Nottingham, Dr Onni Gust from the Department of History, and Ibtisam Ahmed from the Department of Politics and International Relations. Ibtisam Ahmed’s time on the project was supported by The University of Nottingham’s Institute of Asia and Pacific Studies.
The exhibition will open on Wednesday 12April (5pm-7pm).
Items of particular interest:
- Images from a collection of glass plate negatives of India taken during the 1860s, showing a range of iconic Indian temples to scenes of everyday people.
- Letters home from a Derbyshire-born Army surgeon who sketched the people, places and camps he saw when stationed in India in the 1850s.
- A 19th century sabre, loaned by Nottingham Castle Museum, which was taken by a British soldier as a war trophy from a defeated Indian military officer during the Indian Mutiny of 1857.
- A petition against outlawing sati (the practice of burning widows on their husband’s funeral pyre), signed by hundreds of Hindu inhabitants of Calcutta and presented to Bentinck in the 1820s.
- A specially-commissioned artwork, inspired by the archives and created by a local textile-art collective, Infinite Threads (comprising Singing Bird Artist, Pauline Edwards and P. Chezharb). ‘Tangled Freedoms I, II & III’ creatively interprets the themes and content of the exhibition using stitched fabrics and dyes.
The exhibition will be held at the Weston Gallery, Nottingham Lakeside Arts, University Park, Nottingham NG7 2RD from Thursday 13 April 2017 – Sunday 20 August 2017. Admission is free.
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