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Comparative Museologies

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'The presentation of India at the Paris Exposition: critical and curatorial perspectives from 1878'

As Curator of the Lahore Museum and Director of the National College of Arts, John Lockwood Kipling understood the importance of the great 19th century international exhibitions: "those powerfully seductive forms of mass public entertainment and education." Kipling contributed to the organisation and curation of the Indian pavilions at 28 of them worldwide, and used his prolific journalism to present critical and curatorial perspectives. His most detailed reviews were a series written about Paris Exposition Universelle in 1878. Commenting on the British display of works in its India Pavilion, he remarked: 'Our India, it must be confessed, makes but a poor figure in comparison; nor is what we show arranged with any approach to the method, lucidity and instructiveness that seem natural to the French'. A decade later in 1887, the ethnographer, Dr T.E. Hamy, who had played a significant role at the 1878 Exposition Universelle, collaborating with the archaeologist Alexandre Bertrand, Director of the Museum of National Archaeology, on an installation, and participating in the organization of the Musée Ethnographique des Missions Scientifiques at the Trocadéro Palace, published an extensive study of the 1886 Colonial and Indian Exhibition held at the South Kensington Museum in London. In his Introduction, Hamy noted: 'None of the great exhibitions, whether general or special, which have lately succeeded each other in the capitals of the two worlds, have offered the scientists an interest comparable to that presented by the Colonial and Exhibition'. L'Exposition Colonial et Indienne de Londres included a detailed description of the 13 rooms of the Indian section of the exhibition. Hamy also described the display of people as living exhibits, many of whom had been engaged for that purpose by Kipling. Drawing on Kipling and Hamy's reviews, this presentation will explore the impact of international/'universelle' exhibitions on the acquisition, display and reception of works from South Asia into permanent museum collections. It will also consider how their interpretations reflected contrasting national scholarly traditions. As Hamy's conclusion pointed out, many of the works of art and industry in the Colonial and Indian Exhibition were 'already the core' of a permanent Indian Museum: 'This permanent museum will be utilitarian above all without a doubt; men who are particularly interested in science and art will find there many elements of study.'

Event (Conference)

TitleComparative Museologies
LocationMusée de l'Homme