Friday, December 12, 2008

Colonial diaries

Reading a recent review of an exhibition showcasing luxury tableware produced by Indian craftsmen in the 1800's during the British occupation, I found myself drawing parallels to the trend of outsourcing technology jobs to India... To subvert the last line from the review below: outsourcing technology jobs to India, where skilled local programmers did fabulous work for a song, made sound business sense...

Whatever its purpose or destination, each item embodied particular images of India, true or false to different degrees, and often pure invention, as India itself was to the colonial eye. As Ms. Dehejia points out in the catalog, in the first half of the 19th century, when early cast silver first appeared there, the subcontinent was still a mystery to much of the Western world, a distant land whose natural resources and benighted natives invited intrusive cultivation.
Tea was one of those natural resources; silver another. After Britain’s early contact with China, tea had become the national addiction. And when it was discovered growing in northern India, the British rejoiced in a limitless supply. Silver tea services had long been fixtures of British domestic design. And outsourcing production to India, where skilled local craftsman did fabulous work for a song, made sound business sense.
Begs questions like the following: Does globalization and in turn outsourcing imply a veiled form of colonialism? Do ideals like The Theory of Comparative Advantage used so skillfully by Western economists point to inherent colonialist tendencies and a desire to profit from the so called underdeveloped nations? Using the ideas generated from the theory of comparative advantage, are we in turn forever 'type casting' certain countries into their perceived areas of expertise and thus preventing them from expanding into new areas?

Four piece Tea Service (teapot, milk jug, sugar bowl and hot water pot). Scotland in the Indian taste, ca 1881, Silver (image ripped from the Wallach Art Gallery website)

Note: “Delight in Design: Indian Silver for the Raj” ends tomorrow at the Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia University

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