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Vision, visibility and power in colonial India
Author: Niharika Dinkar

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.

Masculine subjects in Ravi Varma’s scholar paintings
Niharika Dinkar

Private lives and interior spaces Private lives and interior spaces: masculine subjects in Ravi Varma’s scholar paintings The sensible sun, which rises in the East, allows itself to be interiorized, in the evening of its journey, in the eye and the heart of Western man. He summarizes, assumes and achieves the essence of man ‘illuminated by the true light’. (Jacques Derrida, ‘White Mythology’, 1982) To say that desire is part of the infrastructure comes down to saying that subjectivity produces reality. Subjectivity is not an ideological superstructure

in Empires of light
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The subaltern in the shadows
Niharika Dinkar

to Ravi Varma’s painting of the reading scholar to inquire further into portraiture and subjectivity around the turn of the twentieth century. The Student (see Figure 5.1) readily subscribes to models of absorption and selfhood available in the canonical European corpus of eighteenth-­century painting, where the reading subject implied a disregard of the viewer, indicating a solipsistic investment in the self that celebrated his autonomy. This autonomy was extended to painting itself, in Michael Fried’s thesis, so that modernism was viewed along this absorptive

in Empires of light
Proscenium theatre and technologies of illusionism
Niharika Dinkar

Breaking Open the Tomb of his Ancestors, 1772 8  William Hodges, A View Taken in the Bay of Otaheiti Peha, 1773 9  William Hodges, Tahiti Revisited, 1776 10  Sita Ram, View of the Illuminations at the Palace of Furruk Bukhsh, 1814 11  Ravi Varma, Arjun and Subhadra, 1890 12  Ravi Varma, Draupadi in Disguise, n.d. 13  Ravi Varma, Draupadi at the Court of Viraat, 1897 14  Ravi Varma, Story of Purūravas and Urvashi: Urvashi flying off to heaven while Purūravas tries to stop her, 1896 15  Ravi Varma, At the Bath, c. 1902 16  Ravi Varma, Shakuntala Patralekhan, 1911

in Empires of light
The naked and the clothed
Niharika Dinkar

Erotics of the body politic Erotics of the body politic: the naked and the clothed Supposing that Truth is a woman – what then? (Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil) The film Rang Rasiya (Colours of Passion, 2008) based on the life of Ravi Varma situates the Pauranik tale of Urvashi and Pururavas at the heart of the narrative to tell the story not only of star-­crossed lovers but of the proscriptions of the naked body. The Pauranik version told the story of the heavenly nymph Urvashi who could marry the mortal Pururavas only under the condition that

in Empires of light
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Niharika Dinkar

of light to evolve an aesthetic idiom that countered dominant ideas of visibility. The literary movement that called itself Chhayavaad (Of the Shadows) was one prominent example that took refuge in the darkness. A romantic movement in modern Hindi poetry that emerged in the mid-­1920s, it employed imagery of candlelight and lamps amid obscure shadows. The poet Mahadevi Varma included the recurrent motif of a lamp, often featured with the waiting woman, the virahini separated from her lover. Varma, who had been trained as a painter in ‘the realistic Ravi Varma style

in Empires of light
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Niharika Dinkar

cosmopolitan a particular society may be’, declared Archer, ‘it had still its own national character – a character which made modern France different from modern Italy, modern India different from modern France.’1 Partha Mitter has used the example of Tagore’s to elaborate upon what he calls the ‘Picasso manqué’ syndrome, whereby the colonial subject’s emulation of the master’s vocabulary is implicated in the imperial power structure, terms that were of course equally applicable to Ravi Varma.2 Archer’s inability to find an appropriate cultural context for Tagore’s formal

in Empires of light
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Caroline Turner and Jen Webb

, but it is possible to reconsider and to incorporate alternative frames of reference and, by overlaying those historical sites, to observe the possibility of a more effective intervention. Her video play Unity in Diversity (2003), for example, is based on the painting Galaxy of Musicians by the nineteenth-century Indian painter Raja Ravi Varma, where 5.4 162 Art and human rights 5.5 Nalini Malani, Cassandra, 2009. Detail. 30 panel reverse painting on acrylic sheet. Collection: Kiran Nadar Museum of Art. (Full image at: http://www.nalinimalani. com

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