Lockwood Kipling: Arts and Crafts in the Punjab and London

Art
3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

It isn’t often that a museum puts on an exhibition about one of its former employees, but such is the case with the V&A and artist, teacher, curator, father-of-Rudyard and general jack-of-all-trades John Lockwood Kipling. Before moving to India and becoming the foremost champion of its arts and crafts, he worked at what was then the South Kensington Museum as a decorator: his terracotta tiles clad the building’s exterior. And his ties to the institution don’t stop there, either. Many of the 300 objects on display here – paintings, photographs, wall hangings, furniture, jewellery, trinkets – come from the V&A’s own collection, and were donated by him.

Kipling was a teenager when he visited the Great Exhibition of 1851 and saw the sumptuous crafts exhibited by the British East India Company. It kindled his fascination with the Subcontinent, and after training as a ceramicist in the Staffordshire Potteries, he relocated to Bombay in 1865 to teach at the Sir JJ School of Art. Here, he turned his students away from European influences and encouraged them to draw inspiration from the city’s architecture, craft and design. Later, he took on a curatorial post in Lahore, and ultimately rose to become a vital cultural arbiter between British India and its ruling nation.

The show transports us back to the days of the Raj in a heady succession of iridescent fabrics, elephant carvings, ornate designs for mosque façades and photographs of alleyways and bazaars. There’s even sitar music twanging throughout. But for all the evocation, something is being glossed over. Today’s audiences are informed; they know that for every jolly story of colonial trade and exchange, there’s untold thousands of hardship and oppression. Which isn’t to slam Kipling as some jackbooted imperialist: he clearly held his adopted home in high regard, which you can see in his reverential drawings of loom weavers and village elders. But all the same, he takes his place in the dark and complex legacy of the Empire. This exhibition should have done more to acknowledge that, since one thing it highlights is this: so does the V&A.

@MattBreen3

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