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Indian Textiles in European Art: A Colonial History

The pervasion of the colonial attitude into literary texts is evident in Dickens’s sophisticated prose with its acerbic imperialist undertones, but the economic penetration of India is less conspicuous. Among other things, India was revered for its spices and textiles, and trade with India remained sacred for European colonisers.

It is when the raw material for the fabrics that were transported out of the fertile tracts of Punjabi and Bengalese land found its way into European homes that their presence in literature and art became more obvious.

Suchitra Choudhury, an expert on English literature associated with India, says, “the sheer incidence of ‘shawls’ in printed discourse […] suggest that they went beyond the realm of everyday fashion to constitute one of the important narratives of nineteenth century Britain.”

The influence of imperialism on the cultural production of shawls and dresses also seeps into books and paintings, casting a pleasurable light on the irreparable damage done to the Indian economy.

In this series, we will explore some of the ways Indian textiles are presented in European art.

*Click on the arrow to go on the next slide*

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

The inclusion of Indian symbols and textiles in European art and literature speaks volumes about the importance of trade with India to European countries.

It reveals the economic infiltration of colonies and the appropriation of Indian motifs with allusions that remain stout reminders of the ubiquity of the colonial mindset under British rule in India.


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