South Asia

Organized Panel Session

1 - About Face: The Affective Facades of Begum Samru (1805-1836)

Friday, July 6
2:40 PM - 4:10 PM
Location: Mahogany, First Floor

This presentation explores the art and architecture patronized by a ruling dowager Begum Samru (b. circa 1750 –d. 1836). The begum rose from humble beginnings as a nautch girl in Mughal Delhi to become the favored companion of a European mercenary Walter Reinhardt and following his death the heiress to his army and estate. The begum amassed more wealth, position, and power through savvy alliances with the Mughals and the English East India Company. She built several mansions where she hosted, entertained, and consulted with her male allies and commissioned portraits of herself that she gifted to them. “About Face” uses theories of affect to explore the facades of the begum’s buildings and her portraits as agentic surfaces that blurred the boundary between the intimate private self and the public political arena. By utilizing an unmistakably European aesthetic with neoclassical porticoes and carriage porches in her mansions the begum projected her political capacity and military might. Likewise, the many paintings of the begum that show her unveiled face gazing directly at the viewer functioned as portable facades. Circulating in a wider network than her architectural works they too communicated to various political powers her ability and willingness for engagement. I examine these facades as surfaces where multiple affects related to the male gaze, political desires, and domestic invitations intersected to create unique possibilities for the begum to accrue power. 

Mrinalini Rajagopalan

University of Pittsburgh, United States

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1 - About Face: The Affective Facades of Begum Samru (1805-1836)



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