Erotics of the body politic
The naked and the clothed
in Empires of light
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A discourse on veiling and unveiling was implicated in changing notions of the body in nineteenth century India, prominent amongst which was the place of the female nude. Introduced by European artists and taught at the British-run academic art schools in India, the nude was also displayed in the houses and palaces of the elite as a symbol of good taste. This chapter argues that this idea of the nude – as the body shorn of all clothing – was premised upon Enlightenment ideas of the ‘naked truth’ that assumed the naked body as ‘natural’ and prior to representation. In the Indian context, however, as many authors have noted, it was the adorned body that was regarded as auspicious. This chapter evaluates how the female body becomes the site of an inordinate erotic investment in nineteenth-century Indian pictorial practice, premised upon exactly such a mechanism of veiling and unveiling, providing us with some historical perspective in recent debates on nudity in Indian painting.

Empires of light

Vision, visibility and power in colonial India

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