Stylistic hybridity and colonial art and design education: A wooden carved screen by Ram Singh
The architecture of the British Raj dominates the cityscape of Lahore. As the city prepares for the Golden Jubilee celebrations in 1997 marking fifty years of independence from British rule, the impressive Lahore High Court, General Post Office and the Lahore Museum (each one a memorial of the British Raj) still remain buildings of prime civic importance. In architectural style and administrative function they form a strong contrast with the earlier monuments of the Mughal and Sikh rulers who preceded the British. The Raj buildings present a varied example of nineteenth-century colonial architecture: a curious mix of European classical styles and traditional Indian architecture (Metcalf 1989; Tillotson 1989). Such hybridity characterises objects produced under colonial influence and direction. This chapter explores in detail the making and meaning of one such object: a wooden carved screen which is attributed to the master-craftsman Ram Singh, currently in the collection of the National College of Arts, Lahore (formerly the Mayo School of Arts).1 The fertile province of the Punjab came directly under British rule in 1849 with the fall of Lahore. Shortly afterwards the British established control over the whole of India as they rapidly completed the annexation of the north-western region which not only bordered Afghanistan but was also the geographical limit of their Indian Empire. Meanwhile state structures, such as an administrative network and an efficient communications system, were rapidly developed in the Punjab. Additionally, a system of schools and colleges which had earlier been implemented in other regions was likewise established to advance colonial educational policy. Lahore, a historic city and the regional capital, retained its status as one of the major centres of academic and cultural activity in India. For purposes of good governance an on-going concern of the British state was to understand the political, economic, religious, judicial and cultural aspects, as far as possible, of the vast and diverse country it was ruling. Hence meticulous studies were carried out in all these areas by dedicated scholars and administrators. Almost all existing important histories and other documents were translated into English and extensive surveys such as the Archaeological Survey of India, Birdwood's compilation of The Arts of India and Fergusson's study of
Indian architecture (to name a few) were commissioned (Cunningham 1875; Fergusson 1876; Birdwood 1880). These detailed studies have formed the basis for information, research and analysis until very recently when modern historians began reconsidering the works of the past executed under colonial direction. In 1864 B. H. Baden-Powell organised an exhibition of industrial arts of the region in Lahore in a purpose-built exhibition building which later became the famous Tollington Market. The exhibits were compiled by him in a publication known as The Handbook of the Manufactures and Arts of the Punjab (1872). The outcome of this exhibition was important both for craftsmen and for policy makers: not only did it provide a complete survey of regional crafts, but it also introduced the concept of directing production for commercial purposes, internally in the Indian market, as well as for overseas trade. The exhibition also made apparent the need for an institution where crafts could be taught and practised. In 1875, the Mayo School of Arts was founded in Lahore as a fitting memorial to Lord Mayo who was assassinated while on a visit to the Andaman Islands. Funded by subscriptions to the Mayo Memorial Fund in the Punjab, the building (completed in 1883) was designed by the first Principal of the School, John Lockwood Kipling, assisted by his student and master-craftsman Ram Singh, and constructed by Lahore's Executive Engineer, Ganga Ram, in the characteristic architectural style of the period (Latif 1994: 274). The School became an important centre for the teaching and practice of local crafts; and it was in this centre that craftsmen from the region congregated. By focusing on the activity of the School, this chapter will attempt to show how several objects, such as the wooden carved screen attributed to Ram Singh, were made by adapting the skill of local craftsmen to suit European taste. It will also be proposed that in this way not only was a transformation effected in traditional practice but that soon after its inception, the products of the School, especially wooden and metal functional objects, began to be widely copied because they were regarded to be of a high standard particularly in demand by the rising educated middle classes in India. Thus the influence of the Mayo School of Arts spearheaded a burgeoning activity in the workshops of Lahore and in the region. The justification for setting up an art school in the Punjab was not merely an economic one: it formed part of a more comprehensive policy for the industrial arts of the country at large. In 1853 Sir Charles Trevelyan had stated the overall motive for establishing schools of art in India on the model of the 'institution at Marlborough House .... Art is taught there systematically ... [as] it is our duty to give our Indian fellow students every possible aid in cultivating those branches of art that still remain to them' (Edwardes 1961: 256). Furthermore he proposed a system that would 'set the natives on a process of European improvement [so that] the national activity [would be] fully and harmlessly employed in acquiring and diffusing European knowledge and naturalising European constitutions' (Tarapor 1980). Three major schools of art had already been set up in Madras (1853), Calcutta (1854) and Bombay (1857). Finally, the
Mayo School of Industrial Arts ('Industrial' was later dropped) was founded primarily as a school of craft. S. M. Latif, the nineteenth-century historian, records that it was established for the 'purpose of instruction in design especially for the development of the indigenous arts of the Punjab' (Latif 1994). With the establishing of the Mayo School, the Director of Public Instruction in the Punjab declared its philosophy:
our school of art is to be emphatically an industrial one. We do not wish to imitate the ceramic vases of Madras or the foliated capitals of Bombay, but to draw our experience rather from the royal workshops of the Mughals, from the best native specimens of Art and Industry in Modern India, and from the cyclopean forges of the Railway.