reclayming territory

2017 - 2018

exhibited at MOD Degree Show, Copeland Park (2018); Victoria and Albert Museum (2018); The Durbar Hall at Lukshmi Vilas Palace, Baroda (2020)

Contextualised by the colonial connection between Britain and India, Reclayming Territory explores the hierarchical relationship between the coloniser and the colonised, and how it has been challenged. This investigation takes place through material experimentation with clay collected from the River Thames, and through extensive research into colonial archives and museum collections. The project critically evaluates what kinds of narratives and perspectives are missing from these spaces of learning, how these gaps can be filled, and how research material can be activated to engage individuals and communities in deeper conversations about colonisation in today’s sociocultural landscape.

This project challenges the traditional format of a museum space, using a nomadic, travelling archive of decolonised historiography. This was taken back to sites along the River Thames to elicit these conversations. It contains official documents, films, interviews, photographs and books relating to the Durbar Incident of 1911 (see below). It also carries a recreation of an important royal heirloom - The Baroda Pearls - produced in collaboration with ceramists, historians and jewellery craftsmen in India. This object thus embodies the notion of stolen, borrowed and shared territory, through the physical exchange of soil between the two countries.

The Durbar Incident

This work specifically addresses the Durbar Incident of 1911, where Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III of Baroda changed the course of British Indian history in an understated yet controversial public snub towards the British administration. Apart from ignoring strict behavioural protocol, the Maharaja also dismissed the rigid dresscode that required all royal subjects to be dressed in their most ornate clothing and jewellery before showing deference to the Emperor and Empress of the Indian Subcontinent - King George V and Queen Mary. He wore a simple white cotton outfit, and carried a walking cane rather than a bejewelled sword. Standing before the King and Queen, he did not bow deeply and back away, but instead reportedly bobbed his head briefly before turning his back toward them and walking away. As part of this act of protest, the Maharaja allegedly removed his impressive seven-stranded pearl necklace - the Baroda Pearls, a Gaekwad family heirloom - before he approached the royal couple. 

The Travelling Archive

The archive chronicles this incident and includes documents, photographs and films that explore the impetus behind the Maharaja’s actions, and address his ambivalent relationship with the British administration, his contribution to the Indian independence movement and the legacy he left behind. The Baroda Pearls have been recreated in the collected clay, each strand made from a different mixture of British and Indian clay.

The research and process for this project were compiled into a film, exhibited as part of the project’s installation at MOD, the Goldsmiths College BA Design degree show in 2018.