The Doubled Frame: Interrogating Identity

Curated by Tasneem Zakaria Mehta

The Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum's extraordinary collection of models and dioramas form a unique art historical mode in the larger genre of Company School Painting. They represent more than just a sculptural equivalent of the paintings. Produced under the tutelage of the Museum's then curators Ernst Fern and C. L. Burns, both of whom were also principals of the Sir J. J. School of Art, the models and dioramas show us how Indians were being taught to view themselves through the new and exciting medium of the Museum and the various State exhibitions which were popular throughout the latter half of the 19th and early 20th century, to which the Museum regularly contributed.

The exhibition, The Doubled Frame: Interrogating Identity, attempts to trace the genealogy of our model and diorama collection exploring the various lenses through which Indians were viewed and were insidiously being taught to view themselves in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. The model collection becomes an important and as yet undocumented extension of the ambitious and controversial project to capture in minute detail the people of India. British administrators constructed an archaeology of dominance through visual narratives that ossified and redefined caste and custom and soon Indians learnt to interpret themselves through similar tropes.

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In tracing the connections between our models and the various documentary traditions which preceded them in the subcontinent, interesting discoveries have been unearthed which present clearly discernible influences of artists such as Raja Ravi Varma in the dioramas, The Court of Krishna and Sita in Ashokvan for eg.; or the similarities between our models of Indian communities and the paintings and sketches of Rao Bahadur Durandhar, an eminent Maharashtrian artist who went on to become the first Indian principal of the Sir J. J. School of Art, Mumbai. The new medium of photography also influenced the way community types were represented in the models and one can see, for e.g., the Parsi gentleman in our collection derives directly from the studio photograph of Parsis in William Johnson’s The Oriental Races and Tribes, Residents and Visitors of Bombay: A Series of Photographs with Letterpress Descriptions (1863-66).

The title of this exhibition owes a debt to Dr. Homi Bhabha’s seminal text The Location of Culture (1994). In revisiting history to reflect on how identity shifts and mutates through political and social machinations and creates new visual characteristics and forms of representation, the past inscribes itself in the present, and helps us look afresh at who we are and how we might evolve.

Curated by Tasneem Zakaria Mehta, Managing Trustee and Honorary Director
Researched by: Madhura Wairkar, Asst. Curator Collections
Assisted by Ruta Waghmare

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