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Art in the Colonial Project


Submitted By froggymamaB
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Art in the colonial project
Art played a significant role in the colonial project because of the nature of what was being depicted. Paintings such as the one done by Barker, show a striking image of the times and the underlying meaning being shown through the characters. Certainly it is an image that could stir strong emotion for parties of both sides of the situation. Looking at the painting done by Thomas Jones Barker it is plainly obvious in the positioning of the people where the power lied within the situation. The image shows the African chief kneeling before the queen accepting a bible. This is a very accurate depiction of the circumstances at the time. A Victorian seeing this image would easily be assured of who was in charge at the time. The suggestion would be that the British Empire were spreading their ways among those who were less, and that the opposition was obliged to accept the better British ways. I would not think it would be an easy image by any stretch of the imagination for a Victorian to imagine the positions in the painting swapped. Because the British were so founded in the idea that their ways were better, and that it was their job to educate the rest of the world on how to be as good as they were, a Victorian would have no reason to imagine such a thing. It is notable that the British people were a proud people and it is not too often proud people put themselves in positions where they can imagine being the little man in the situation. The idea that the rest of the world needed saving by the British ideas probably made the idea that the Queen would ever kneel to an African chief laughable. The Queen would have been a familiar source of imperialism because she was the face that others saw to make the decisions. She was far and wide the ruler and the symbol of authority. Aside from the obvious title, the Queen was depicted everywhere. Her face was on money, her name on seals of political demands, and her presence was felt wherever the British forces were to be found. In Barker’s painting there are many men in the room, both behind her and across from her, seemingly overseeing the exchange. Even with the strong masculine presence in the painting she is the strong center object of the portrait. The inferiority of the African in this picture is visually produced in both his posture and costume. His posture shows him not making eye contact and obviously in a lower position than that of the queen accepting her exchange. By his positioning, even a glance at this portrait portrays who held the power in the room. His costume shows his inferiority because of the lack of polish in comparison to the clothing worn by the queen as well as the rest of the room. Even the other members of the exchange are standing and appear to be wearing fine tailored clothing. This suggests that even though he was royalty among his people, he was clearly not “cut from the same cloth” in this situation. I would say this painting does correspond to the themes from this week because is correlates to the ideas introduced in the scramble for Africa. In that discussion we spoke of the British and other nations rushing to colonize and pass on their ways to the natives of those areas. In this case it shows a strong image of the strong British presence and the passing of ideas, of religion specifically in this painting.
Art definitely played a significant role in the colonial project due to the strong accurate images it presented to people. Barker’s painting is a profound one because of the accurate depiction of power and the striking image of the chief kneeling. Certainly it is an image that could stir strong emotion for parties of both sides of the situation. It is an image that sticks out strongly because it gives a situation that is hard to perceive normally a physical image for people to hold onto.

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