Empires of light

Vision, visibility and power in colonial India

Beyond its simple valorisation as a symbol of knowledge and progress in post-Enlightenment narratives, light was central to the visual politics and imaginative geographies of empire. Empires of Light describes how imperial designations of ‘cities of light’ and ‘hearts of darkness’ were consonant with the dynamic material culture of light in the nineteenth-century industrialisation of light (in homes, streets, theatres, etc.) and its instrumentalisation through industries of representation. Empires of Light studies the material effects of light as power through the drama of imperial vision and its engagement with colonial India. It evaluates responses by the celebrated Indian painter Ravi Varma (1848–1906) to claim the centrality of light in imperial technologies of vision, not merely as an ideological effect but as a material presence that produces spaces and inscribes bodies.

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