British artists, The Singh Twins, have been commissioned by Royal Collection Trust to create a contemporary response to Splendours of the Subcontinent, which includes Four Centuries of South Asian Paintings and Manuscripts and A Prince’s Tour of India 1875–6, which opened to the public at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London on 8th June.
Presented as a tryptic, the Twins’ artwork, titled Rule Britannia:Legacies of Exchange, is inspired by and incorporates selected treasures from the exhibitions including South Asian paintings and manuscripts from the Royal Library, and arms and armour, decorative objects, and jewellery gifted to Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, by local rulers during his tour of the subcontinent in 1875-6.
Inkeeping with the Twins’ highly symbolic, decorative, narrative and thought provoking style, the piece,
which is displayed in the Queen’s Gallery Millar Learning Room, provides contexts for interpreting these objects as well as offering insights into their modern day relevance.
As an initial starting point for the commission, The Singh Twins focused on one of the star objects in A Prince’s Tour of India 1875–6,: an enamelled, gold and jewell encrusted inkstand in the form of a peacock-shaped boat, which features prominently within the artwork.
The Twins offer diverse interpretations of this object that reflect on the symbolism of the boat and the importance o maritime transportation to the history of British Indian relations: exploring interconnected themes around maritime trade and exploration, cultural exchange, Empire, British colonialism and it’s legacies. They also consider how this beautiful object made of precious materials represents India’s rich heritage of skilled craftsmanship and the legendary opulence and wealth of its rulers.
The peacock itself (as the national bird of India) is used to symbolise Indian heritage and identity.Other imagery that respond to the Prince of Wales gifts as a whole, represents how public exhibitions of these gifts at the time helped cultivate wider appreciation of Indian aesthetics, which fed into the European ‘exotic’ orientalist view of India and the development of British markets for both Indian and Indian design-inspired goods.
Whilst further imagery represents the purpose of the Prince’s India tour, the places he visited and the significance of the gifts he received. As a triptych, the artwork presents a time line of British trade, rule and cultural relations with India from 1600 to 1947 and represents the important role played by British Royalty (from Tudors, to Stuarts, to Hanovers and Windsors) as promoters of Indo-British trade, trend setters in Indian taste and fashion, and patrons of Indian craftsmanship.
Key elements of the composition draw on a Guildhall invitation card created for the ‘Welcome Home’ reception for the Prince of Wales in 1876, as well as the Imperial Mughal durbar scenesfrom the Padshanama manuscript in the Royal Collection. Whilst details throughout the work highlight the hidden stories, cross cultural exchange, politics and scientific innovations that marked British connections with India centred on trade in Indian luxury and consumer commodities for over three centuries – from 1600 (when a Royal charter to trade with India was first granted by Elizabeth I to the East India Company) to the end of the British Raj and Partition of India in 1947. The centre panel in the tryptic celebrates the positive legacy of this Indo-British relationship – not least, the contribution of India and the Asian community to Britain. Amongst some of the figures represented,are the Indian Princess suffragette, Sophia Duleep Singh; WWI Ace pilot, Hardit Malik; the Sikharchitect who helped design the Durbar Room at Osbourne House, Bhai Ram Singh; ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ finalists, ‘Signature’, and the man who gave Britain curry and shampoo, Sake Dean Mahomed.
In highlighting aspects of shared Indo-British history, culture and identity rooted in trade, this new commission continues the Twins’ ongoing interest in interconnected themes around Empire,conquest, colonialism and its legacies explored, most recently, in their highly successful solo exhibition ‘Slaves of Fashion’, which was hosted by the Walker Art Gallery earlier this year. Like their ‘Slaves of Fashion’ series, the commission represents a new phase in the Twin’s artistic development: combining the minutely detailed, hand painted techniques for which they are known (influenced by traditional Indian miniatures), with digitally created imagery, to create mixed medium works on fabric that are presented as large scale, lightbox artworks.
Talking about the commission the Singh Twins said:“We are delighted to have been invited to create new work responding to such a diverse and exquisite range of fascinating treasures from the Royal Collection. Exploring how to present these for modern audiences, in a visually impactful and meaningful way was challenging. Not only because every object had it’s own story to tell and could be interpreted from different perspectives,but because the interconnected aspects of British-Indian relations which they embody individually and collectively, are complex.”
“It’s been an immensely enjoyable and rewarding project which has enabled us to push the boundaries of our creative techniques even further. We hope our artwork will encourage visitors to Splendours of the Subcontinent to view the treasures on display not just as objects of beauty that belong to the past, but as embodiments of a collective heritage and identity that remains relevant today”.
The Singh Twins’ commission is on display at the Millar Learning Room, The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London until 14th October 2018.There will be a unique opportunity to join The Singh Twins as they discuss their work in detail at an‘in conversation’ ticketed event on Wednesday 26th September . The eveningconcludes with a private view of Splendours of the Subcontinent and special look at their newdigital artwork in the Millar Learning Room.After the close of Splendours of the Subcontinent, the artwork ‘Rule Britannia: Legacies ofExchange’ will return to The Singh Twins’ personal touring collection, as an addition to their ’Slaves of Fashion’ series.