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Imperial Subjects: (Post)colonial conversations between South Asia & Wales

A Glynn Vivian Art Gallery & University of Wales Seminar

Call for Papers

Seminar Venue: Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Alexandra Road Swansea SA1 5DZ

Dates: Wednesday 13 & Thursday 14 May 2020

Organisers: Daniel G. Williams (Professor of English, Swansea University), Zehra Jumabhoy (Associate Lecturer, Art History, Courtauld Institute of Art, London) & Katy Freer (Exhibitions Officer, Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea)

Keynote speakers: Gauri Viswanathan, Director, South Asia Institute; Professor in the Humanities, Department of English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University & Professor Michael Franklin, Chair English Literature & Creative Writing, Swansea University

Agenda: This seminar will be held in the build-up to a major exhibition on South Asia and Wales, at Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea. Scheduled for 2021, the show will be co-curated by Zehra Jumabhoy & Katy Freer, and it will include modern and contemporary Welsh and South Asian art. Papers from the following conference will be considered for publication in the book which will accompany the exhibition.

In 1783, philologist William Jones gave up his career as a circuit judge in Wales and set sail for Calcutta. Becoming a scholar of ancient Indian texts and languages, he founded the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1784, and discovered a deep structural relationship between European and Indian languages. The latter view laid the building-blocks of a discipline dubbed (for better or worse) 'Orientalism'. In 1798, Henrietta Herbert (wife of Edward Clive, Governor of Madras, and daughter-in-law of the infamous robber-baron Robert, 'Clive of India') went on a shopping spree to South India. The booty she returned with included the fabled treasures of the defeated Ruler of Mysore, Tipu Sultan. These be-jewelled relics and paintings continue to be trapped in a stronghold on the edge of Wales: Powis Castle in Welshpool contains some of the finest Indian artefacts in Britain. There were other, kinder, methods of gathering loot too. In the 1870s, industrialist Richard Glynn Vivian - the fourth son of the owners of the most successful copper smelting plant in the world - took off from Swansea for foreign shores, equipped with a sketch-book and camera. His diaries document his journeys from Sri Lanka to Madras and then on to Bombay. Accompanying him as he bought postcards and pendants in the Subcontinent's busy bazaars, they offer a snapshot into the glamourous world of the gentlemen explorers of the East. In addition, the19th century saw a host of Welsh missionaries and educators (eg John Griffiths) make their various pilgrimages to conquer the hearts, minds (and souls) of South Asians. In recent years, the tide has turned: now, it is Indian industrialists who often call the shots in Wales (think of the Tata Steel works in Port Talbot, owned by an old Bombay family).

Whichever way we look at it, though, South Asia and Wales have had a long - if not always loving - liaison; stretching back to the earliest years of Britain's socio-political infiltration of the Subcontinent. And, given Wales' own status within the larger British narrative, the encounters have often been more collaborative than the history of Colonialism would lead one to assume: Ernest Rhys wrote the first English language biography of the Indian poet and artist Rabindranath Tagore; Welsh nationalism drew much from the non-violent anti-Colonial politics of Gandhi; Aneurin Bevan developed a late friendship with Jawaharlal Nehru. There have even been some academic forays into tracing the similarities between ancient Vedic myths and Celtic legends; between gods and fairies. Yet, for all its rich-ness, this relationship - like much else when it comes to Britain's acknowledgment of Wales - has been largely overlooked. Whilst, the Irish and Scottish connections with South Asia have been explored, there has been little concentrated study on the various cultural, religious, political and mercantile conversations between South India and Wales. This conference is part of a project to right a historical wrong: in the build-up to a major exhibition, spotlighting Welsh and South Asian artists, it is meant to serve as a platform for inter-cultural and multi-disciplinary debates.

We invite Papers from across a range of disciplines which seek to explore the various (historical and contemporary; imaginary and actual) encounters between the two regions. Some of the subject areas we seek to explore are: history (colonial or otherwise), art history, politics, postcolonial theory, nationalism studies, sociology, literature, film studies, anthropology and cultural studies. We encourage proposals from artists and curators as well as academics.

This project has now been awarded British Art Network funding. So, this seminar will be accompanied by a series of artists' talks, research seminars and expert-led museum visits across April & May 2020. Watch this space for details.

Contacts for enquiries: / / 

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