Tag Archives: Edward Said

Sacred Spaces: Imperial Archives & Temples of Empire

I am not really one to blow my own trumpet, but it is sometimes helpful to let people know I play. (Note how there is no similar turn of phrase for the ukulele… more’s the pity).

Anyhow, this weekend I am speaking at a conference on “Sacred Spaces” in London; it follows on from my lecture at the British Museum a couple of months ago and will expand on some of the subjects I touched on there.

According to the blurb: This conference will bring together some of the foremost active researchers on Tibetan religion, geography, art and culture to discuss the notions of what makes places and objects sacred. Practical demonstrations of yogic exercises and meditational dance under the guidance of leading practitioners will take place on the second day.

The talks and ensuing discussions will focus on a variety of topics; how a place may be intrinsically sacred through its geomantic or geographical attributes and how sacredness may also be created or embraced by consecration and propitiatory rites. Sacred landscapes and mandala art will also be examined in depth.

I will again be looking at looting and at how the British officers and men of the 1904 Mission to Tibet were attempting to construct scared spaces back at home through their collections. I call these Imperial Archives or Temples of Empire, filled with classically Orientalist bits and bobs. In terms of this ‘Oriental Other,’ Edward Said has noted that, “from the end of the eighteenth century there emerged a complex Orient suitable for study for display in the museum, for reconstruction in the colonial office, for theoretical illustration in anthropological, biological, linguistic, racial, and historical theses about mankind and the universe.”

I think that by collecting objects from Tibet the Edwardian officers and men consciously and subconsciously sought to emphasize the differences between both their own, and the state they represented’s, ordered, civilized, rational self, and Tibet’s backward, religious, oppressed and flawed, ‘Other.’ This could be achieved best by collecting and presenting items to museums that stereotypically encompassed Tibet; items made from human bones, monastic paraphernalia, medieval military equipment, and ‘primitive’ possessions.

The British officers and collectors likewise assured their place in our common historical conscience; collections seek to anchor us in space and time. Crane explains, “being collected means being valued and remembered institutionally; being displayed means being incorporated into the extra-institutional memory of the museum visitors.”

Find more details of tickets and the whole programme at:




Filed under Tibetology, Timology

Ornamentalism: Full Metal Jackets

This photo of North Korea’s top brass has been doing the rounds this week.North Korea Medals on Generals

One thing is for sure, the Generals certainly have a lot of brass… (and tin, and enamel!) It made we wonder where on earth they got their medals from? Given that North Korea has really only fought one war in the last 50 years, and that did not exactly end well for them, then where do all the medals come from… well… North Korea is not alone in dishing out military bling. General Patraeus

This stock photo of the US General Patraeus also gets a mention at the International Tat Awards (I am in no way suggesting that medals and honours awarded for bravery, long-service, valour, gallantry, etc should in any way be ridiculed nor diminished… that’s not my point!)

But there is a nation even better at issuing military bling… one almost overpowered by Shiny Syndrome…one who took the handing out of gongs, ribbons, medals, badges, epaulettes, colarettes, aiguillettes, stars, and baubles… The British of course. This photo of our present Lord High Admiral proves the point:

Philip. Lord High Admiral

As part of a process know as Ornamentalism the British showered the leading lights of their Empire with more and more of this paraphernalia… often to absurdium.

I can thoroughly recommend a book, Ornamentalism: How the British Saw Their Empire, by David Cannadine about the topic. Somewhat controversially, Cannadine argues that class, rank, and status were more important to the British Empire than race. The title of the work Ornamentalism is a direct reference to Edward Said’s book Orientalism, which argues the existence of prejudiced outsider interpretations of the East, shaped by the attitudes of European imperialism in the 18th and 19th centuries. I personally think his central tenet is probably optimistic (and that the Empire remained essentially racist till then end), but the explanation of the way Ornamentalism developed is sound. His comparison between the Coronation of George VI, Curzon’s impossibly grand the Delhi Durbar, and the Nazi rallies at Nuremberg are fascinating.

But I wanted to save this personal favourite till last. Madho Rao Scindia (1876 – 1925), was the 5th Maharaja of Gwalior and part of the Scindian dynasty of the Marathas. He acceded to the throne of his Princely State of Gwalior in 1886 and ruled to his death in 1925. He was noted by the British Government as a progressive ruler and received a number of honours and decorations from the British Raj and other Indian States. He was even appointed Honorary Aide-de-camp to King Edward VII in 1901, in recognition of his support during the Boxer Rebellion in China. But it is his name and full titles that proves the point, and here it is, and here he is, in full glory!  gwalior-Madho

Lieutenant-General His Highness Ali Jah, Umdat ul-Umara, Hisam us-Sultanat, Mukhtar ul-Mulk, Azim ul-Iqtidar, Rafi-us-Shan, Wala Shikoh, Muhtasham-i-Dauran, Maharajadhiraj Maharaja Shrimant Sir Madho Rao Scindia Bahadur, Shrinath, Mansur-i-Zaman, Fidvi-i-Hazrat-i-Malika-i-Mua’zzama-i-Rafi-ud-Darja-i-Inglistan, Maharaja Scindia of Gwalior, GCSI, GCVO, GBE.

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Filed under Timology