Knowledge is power. Over the last three decades this old aphorism of political philosophy has been central to the study of colonialism in history, anthropology, and literary and cultural post-colonial studies. Revised and re-launched in social theory by Michel Foucault, the theme gained momentum after the publication of Edward Said’s highly influential book, Orientalism, in 1978.
It is becoming increasingly clear that our understanding of the Mughal Empire, and early modern empires in general, is benefiting greatly from work dedicated to overcoming preconceptions of power, authority and imperial culture.
In this history of representations and knowledge formation Sanjay Subrahmanyam turns a historian’s gaze to the problems both implicitly and explicitly embedded in all histories of the early modern and modern world: why did Europeans represent and construct India and by extension, the non-European world in the ways that they did? Why and how did these constructs evolve?
In Room 145 of the Ceramics Galleries of the Victoria & Albert Museum, at the top of case 50, you can see an ‘architectural fragment’, which, according to its label, ‘once ornamented a palace in Yuanmingyuan or “garden of perfect clarity”’.
Some 70 years after the British left India it is timely to look back at how the kings and queens of the United Kingdom came to amass one of the largest private collections of South Asian art in the world. Two conjoined exhibitions currently showing at the Queen’s Gallery do just that.