New Delhi DAG Exhibition of East India Company Paintings Shows Tipu Sultan of an Era of Propaganda Art

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An exhibition on the former ruler of Mysuru, through the lens of East India Company painters

An exhibition on the former ruler of Mysuru, through the lens of East India Company painters

Dramatic lighting and black walls set the mood for viewing historical paintings dedicated to Tipu Sultanthe enfant terrible of British India, who made Company officials tremble in their boots.

“Tipu Sultan: Image & Distance,” the Delhi Art Gallery (DAG) exhibition of over 90 artworks, including prints and maps, curated by Giles Tillotson, brings to life the colorful yet propagandistic narratives behind the ruler of Mysuru seen through the eyes of the East India Company Painters. There is also an accompanying book on the subject, written by the curator.

Showstopper

Perhaps the most dramatic of the oils on display is that of Henry Singleton (1766-1839), which shows Tipu with his turban thrown down, his sword drawn, and a British soldier grasping him firmly by the arm while the others surround the rest. of the Sultan’s group. One can see a mix of defeat and bravery in Tipu’s expression as he tries to resist to the end. Entitled “The Last Effort and Downfall of Tippoo Sultaun”, the work, created for a British audience long after the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War it depicts, is being shown for the first time in India.

“Tipu Sultan posed the mightiest challenge to the power of the British East India Company in the period of its greatest territorial expansion,” writes Tillotson. Building on the legacy of his father Haider Ali, during his relatively short reign as ruler of Mysuru, Tipu (1782-99) proved to be an efficient and firm governor of his state, flexible in the formation of alliances but ready to be aggressive vis-à-vis its neighbours,” he says.

Discuss the story

While Tillotson is adamant about staying out of the political conversations raging around Tipu in the wake of right-wing pushback, he recognizes the historical importance of doing a show like this in India. “Contrary to the trend of Indian artworks being exported overseas, we have decided to bring this material to India, to exhibit it to the Indian public,” says Ashish Anand, MD and CEO of DAG.

The exhibition consists of a large number of works – paintings, prints, maps and other objects – and creates a story around the Mysore Wars fought by Tipu and his father Haider Ali. The images are naturally based on the British view of the time, but have been critically examined by curator Tillotson to reflect changing perceptions of this epic battle and its political and social fallout.

With this exhibition, Anand and his team of art specialists seek to lead the public to question their position in relation to Tipu. “Some idolize him while others fiercely reject his contributions. What cannot be disputed is that he was the most formidable enemy the British faced in India,” he says. How these images are interpreted in India today is what this exhibition explores.”

Until August 31, 2022, at DAG, The Claridges, New Delhi.

The writer is a critic-curator by day, a creative writer and visual artist by night.

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