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European Visual Objects in Bengali Identities: From 18th Century Exchanges to Contemporary Afterlives

Wim De Winter (UGent)
(2016)
Author
Organization
Abstract
This contribution investigates the history, appropriations and 'afterlives' of visual objects involved in historical intercultural exchanges in 18th century Bengal. Visual objects appear in this history on multiple levels, both as gift-objects and as part of early visual anthropologies. As gift objects, specific visual materials, such as Flemish prints or copies of European paintings, circulated as gifts from European merchants to influential local power-brokers. These objects formed a nexus around which identities and meanings were created and adapted, which were carried into the afterlives of the gift objects. The study of these afterlives calls for an interdisciplinary ethnohistorical approach that also examines these objects' appearance and use-context today. The historical exchange of visual objects has also shaped the perception of European art and its incorporation in contemporary Bengali identities, under the guise of 'cultural heritage'. Visual art was equally crucial in transmitting and mediating identities within the 18th century Bengali environment of exchange, which led to mutual early visual anthropologies. The Antwerp artist Solvyns (1760-1824) can be considered an early visual anthropologist; he depicted life and activities of Bengali people in his work. In this same period, Bengali artists were depicting the European presence in their scroll paintings and temple sculptures. These early visual anthropologies developed alongside a European colonial legacy in prints and books, while European gift objects and paintings were commodified and preserved in Bengali palaces, today still transmitting an image associated with cultural identity as a historical referent. A fieldwork investigation on the roles of these visual objects in Bengal shows what historians stand to gain from an engagement with visuality and orality: the involved visual objects serve as keys to a contemporary reflection on their appropriation and role in the formation of historical identities, in areas where a textual approach does not always provide adequate insights.
Keywords
visual culture, Bengal, colonialism, appropriation, identity, postcolonial, exoticism, Solvyns, visual anthropology, ethnohistory, ethnography, otherness, mimesis, art, commodification, patuas

Citation

Please use this url to cite or link to this publication:

Chicago
De Winter, Wim. 2016. “European Visual Objects in Bengali Identities: From 18th Century Exchanges to Contemporary Afterlives.” In .
APA
De Winter, W. (2016). European Visual Objects in Bengali Identities: From 18th Century Exchanges to Contemporary Afterlives. Presented at the 3rd Euroacademia International Conference on Identities and Identifications: Politicized Uses of Collective Identities.
Vancouver
1.
De Winter W. European Visual Objects in Bengali Identities: From 18th Century Exchanges to Contemporary Afterlives. 2016.
MLA
De Winter, Wim. “European Visual Objects in Bengali Identities: From 18th Century Exchanges to Contemporary Afterlives.” 2016. Print.
@inproceedings{7075369,
  abstract     = {This contribution investigates the history, appropriations and 'afterlives' of visual objects involved in historical intercultural exchanges in 18th century Bengal. Visual objects appear in this history on multiple levels, both as gift-objects and as part of early visual anthropologies. As gift objects, specific visual materials, such as Flemish prints or copies of European paintings, circulated as gifts from European merchants to influential local power-brokers. These objects formed a nexus around which identities and meanings were created and adapted, which were carried into the afterlives of the gift objects. The study of these afterlives calls for an interdisciplinary ethnohistorical approach that also examines these objects' appearance and use-context today. The historical exchange of visual objects has also shaped the perception of European art and its incorporation in contemporary Bengali identities, under the guise of 'cultural heritage'.  
   Visual art was equally crucial in transmitting and mediating identities within the 18th century Bengali environment of exchange, which led to mutual early visual anthropologies. The Antwerp artist Solvyns (1760-1824) can be considered an early visual anthropologist; he depicted life and activities of Bengali people in his work. In this same period, Bengali artists were depicting the European presence in their scroll paintings and temple sculptures. These early visual anthropologies developed alongside a European colonial legacy in prints and books, while European gift objects and paintings were commodified and preserved in Bengali palaces, today still transmitting an image associated with cultural identity as a historical referent.
   A fieldwork investigation on the roles of these visual objects in Bengal shows what historians stand to gain from an engagement with visuality and orality: the involved visual objects serve as keys to a contemporary reflection on their appropriation and role in the formation of historical identities, in areas where a textual approach does not always provide adequate insights.},
  author       = {De Winter, Wim},
  language     = {eng},
  location     = {Lucca},
  title        = {European Visual Objects in Bengali Identities: From 18th Century Exchanges to Contemporary Afterlives},
  year         = {2016},
}