EXAMINING

VISUAL IMPERIALISM

IMPERIALISM

 is defined as an ideology which extends a country’s power and influence through diplomatic or military force. This exhibition examines imperialism through the lens of visual culture, represented by ceramic objects. There is a complex relationship between fetishization, or the appropriation of culture by western manufacturers, in order to be more appealing to buyers, while simultaneously claiming superiority over the groups they were borrowing from. The intent is to draw a connection between the representation of objects and culture, and the people who are manufacturing and purchasing these objects. It is necessary to examine these relationships when considering those who benefit from western power structures, and those who do not. 

Authentic  Objects represent a specific culture from which they are derived. This exhibition focuses on East Asian ceramics, particularly from China and Japan. Over the centuries, these objects held different societal functions, ranging from fascinating, new representations of the 'Oriental', to items of exotic intrigue, meant to be collected as trophies of the intellectual elite. In Britain, objects associated with Asia were considered antiquarian rarities, making them highly sought after. In the mid-1800s, authentic objects often passed hands regularly, going from display to private collection to art dealers, thus receiving exposure, but not understanding. As these objects traveled, their aesthetic popularity as rare, unique items grew exponentially. 

Imitation  Objects reflect the desire to own items associated with the exotic for their aesthetic and intellectual representation. These objects demonstrate the reach of imperialism, bypassing literal land conquest and moving into visual, cultural conquest. European mercantilists strove to extend their own influence, while simultaneously borrowing from other cultures for capitalistic profit. The imperialist benefits both domestically and abroad through implemented power structures, which allows the imperial culture to dominate and borrow from the conquered culture without repercussion. This domination is apparent in the stylistic design of the European ceramics featured in this exhibition, which serve to elevate westernized culture without crediting the authentic culture from which the aesthetics were borrowed.

Tourist  Objects function as a subsection of imitation objects and serve a different purpose. These objects align with fetishization of a specific culture while hiding behind the guise of intellectual prowess. Tourism and the concept of souvenirs are ways to frame historical narrative and cultural tradition visually, without in depth research. Places that seem mythical or exotic determine the marketability of objects that derive from there. Tourist destinations offer a surface view of the culture and are therefore popular because they are safe experiences which do not induce discomfort. They represent fantasy and stereotypes, naturally objects produced in a tourist environment represent the same. And when a tourist returns to their native homeland, the souvenir represents that experience - fantastical, but from a carefully constructed, surface view. 

Items with this symbol are categorized as Tourist Objects.

There are objects which represent an even exchange between two cultural groups. These three ceramics serve as an example of this. The first plate is an Authentic Object from China, displaying the stylistic rendering of monochromatic blue against the stark, porcelain white, complete with a Chinese landscape in the center. The second plate is an Authentic Object from Spain, with an  intricate, detailed floral border. The third plate is the combination of the two other objects in order to create something culturally unique.The monochromatic use of color against the white, symmetrical border, and central landscape recalls Chinese design, while the exquisite floral design peppered with landscape and a rendering of figures in perceived European dress is distinctly Spanish.

NEVERTHELESS...

 

SOURCES

Go, Julian. “Capital, Containment, and Competition: The Dynamics of British Imperialism, 1730–1939.” Social Science History 38, no. 1-2, p. 43-69, 2014.

Hume, David. Tourism Art and Souvenirs: The Material Culture of Tourism. New York, NY: Routledge, 2014.

Hynes, W. G. "British Mercantile Attitudes towards Imperial Expansion." The Historical Journal 19, no. 4, 969-79, 1976.

Merryman, John Henry. Imperialism, Art, and Restitution. New York, NY : Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Tythacott, Louise. The Lives of Chinese Objects: Buddhism, Imperialism and Display. Berghahn Books, 2011.

Temple Anthropology Laboratory and Museum 

Gladfelter Hall- Lower Level, Temple University

1115 Polett Walk, Philadelphia, PA 19122

anthlab@temple.edu

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