The other face of colonial history

The other face of  colonial history

Artist and designer Devangana Kumar, daughter of Loksabha Speaker Meira Kumar reproduced the post cards of the working class, who rendered their...

Artist and designer Devangana Kumar, daughter of Loksabha Speaker Meira Kumar reproduced the post cards of the working class, who rendered their services in the homes of British officers, on a sequined, rich velvet cloth, and the contrast is evident

Jaywant Naidu

Devangana Kumar is a Delhi-based artist cum-designer who has experimented with postcard pictures of the pageants of the British Raj and transferred them onto a rich velvet cloth. She has displayed this work of hers at Kalakriti Art Gallery in Hyderabad. It all looks to be very royal with lot of glittering sequins decorating the printed velvet cloth. But as one keenly observes, these images tell the tales of the working class during the British Raj, right from the sweeper, house servant, bird seller, mendicant, ayah, khidmatgar, nautch girl to the gardener. These faces belong to an unidentified and nameless class of ‘functionaries’ in British households and offices of the colonial era.

“It’s been a very interesting passion. I have collected more than 1,000 postcards from the 20th century from various places over the years. I came across postcards depicting Indians in the flea markets of London and Kolkata, and some on the Internet. This is a depiction of the lowest class of the society during the colonial rule and I wanted them to get an identity. They were a nameless class. Maybe; these people were denied their rights and happiness. These were basically made and sent all over by the British to show how they had people at their beck and call to do all their work,” shares Devangana Kumar, who is the daughter of Loksabha Speaker Meira Kumar.

“My creative process also includes painting, printing and decoupage, juxtaposing images from pop culture, colourful Indian kitsch and even old photographs, transforming mundane objects into edgy collectibles. I have also been working with Gond painting tribal artists, Warli and also Madhubani painters to make wooden trays and posters. Sometimes I guide them on the motifs. I have travelled to many interior villages with my mother Meira Kumar. It has always been a wonderful travel experience to see the true India. India is a fascinating country. Every person is so genuinely humane and works hard to meet his daily needs,” she adds.

While the artist in her does not fail to identify the interest areas wherever she visits, she has her unforgettable moments. “My nicest moment was when the founder of Sulabh International Sri Bindeshwar Pathak came to my Delhi show with 30 women who worked as manual scavengers. They felt very happy that someone could put a portrait of people from their caste.”
Devangana’s pursuit of traditional arts brings her closer to Andhra Pradesh too. “My interest in Andhra Pradesh is also growing day by day. In fact, my sister works with the leather puppetry groups that hail from the interior regions near Kakinada.”

Coming back to her prints on velvet, ‘Pageants of Raj’, she shares her experience of working on the show. “I read a lot of colonial history as I always feel that there is lot to it than that meets the eye. Most of it was written by the British which was more or less as per their way, than the actual situations.” “It’s nice to be in the historical city of Hyderabad,” she says even as she looks out for the images that can be a part of her future shows.

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