On Cloth and Collections: Towards a Typology of 19th Century Indian Trade Labels
This project examines the emerging pictorial tradition of cotton cloth trade labels and their trajectories into the socioeconomic domain of 19th and early 20th century colonial India. I focus on a collection of 38 trade labels that showcase different styles, dimensions and visual contents from disparate centers of production. Trade labels present in colonial India came via the cloth trade between Britain and India: cotton from India was shipped to Britain, manufactured into cloth and sent back to India to sell. In the process, European traders began to design and produce exceedingly intricate labels for the cloth they meant to sell in the Indian colonies. The resulting trade labels, a type of image circulating at the time, became popular with the Indian consumer public as objects of fascination and, as I suggest, devotion. Moreover, the European preoccupation with reproducing certain images of Indian public life in trade labels is discernible and marks the cross-fertilizing exchange that activated during moments of the colonial encounter. This paper engages contemporary sources on visual theory in India, histories of religion and the politics of heritage.
Thesis Supervisor: Prof. Archana Venkatesan