Racism and Respect of the British Empire

by admin on 02/06/2014

I am well aware that the British Empire was responsible for many atrocities, divisions and oppression. However, it is a commonly held belief that the British imposed religion and cultures upon those people it came across, with little regard for their existing beliefs or traditions.

In terms of India, the ticket below epitomises probably how most people think the empire looked upon the country

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But what is clear from my collection is that, in terms of cotton merchants at least, there was a great deal of interest and respect of local customs. This may have been simply because if local Hindu buyers saw images of the deity Shiva ┬ástuck to the cloth they would be more inclined to buy it, rather than one with a depiction of Queen Victoria. However we may discount the motivation, the end result is more important than the reason, because it has left us with the largest collection of “ethnic” imagery ever amassed. It is a shame only a fraction exists but I thought it would be interesting to compare a Western cliche image and its Indian counterpart as a simple visual demonstration of exactly how reverential and interested Manchester textile merchants were in using images which had relevance to local buyers on the other side of the world.

Bear in mind these are just a few examples of a huge forgotten chapter in art history. One merchant could have 10,000 different trademarks, all of which were drawn and printed among the sooty factories of an industrial English city, but were destined for village markets and stores across the world. In fact, the merchants became so astute at manufacturing and marketing their fabric, that 85% of the world’s population wore cloth from Manchester in the 1880’s.

I have similar examples from Africa, South America and China

Respecting and celebrating the culture of your customer was obviously good business and I would argue more ethical than the homogenous globalisation of brands and logo’s we see today from the likes of Starbucks, McDonalds or Nike.

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