Empires of light

Vision, visibility and power in colonial India

By Niharika Dinkar

Empires of light


  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-3963-4
  • Pages: 304
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £85.00
  • Published Date: September 2019
  • BIC Category: Art History, HISTORY / Asia / India & South Asia, ART / Asian / Indian & South Asian, Indian sub-continent, Humanities / Colonialism & imperialism, The arts / History of art & design styles: c 1800 to c 1900
  • Series: Rethinking Art's Histories


Light was central to the visual politics and imaginative geographies of empire, even beyond its role as a symbol of knowledge and progress in post-Enlightenment narratives. This book describes how imperial mappings of geographical space in terms of 'cities of light' and 'hearts of darkness' coincided with the industrialisation of light (in homes, streets, theatres) and its instrumentalisation through new representative forms (photography, film, magic lanterns, theatrical lighting). Cataloguing the imperial vision in its engagement with colonial India, the book evaluates responses by the celebrated Indian painter Ravi Varma (1848-1906) to reveal the centrality of light in technologies of vision, not merely as an ideological effect but as a material presence that produces spaces and inscribes bodies.



Finalist for the Historians of British Art Book Prize 2021 (Exemplary Scholarship after 1800)


Introduction: writing photo-graphic histories of empire
Part I: Technologies of illumination
1 Through the glass darkly: the phantasmagoria of Elephanta
2 Four acts of seeing: the veil as technology of illumination
Part II: 'Visibility is a trap': battles of the veil
3 'Purdah hai purdah!': proscenium theatre and technologies of illusionism
4 Erotics of the body politic: the naked and the clothed
Part III: Chiaroscuro, portraiture and subjectivity
5 Private lives and interior spaces: masculine subjects in Ravi Varma's scholar paintings
6 Impossible subjects: the subaltern in the shadows


Niharika Dinkar is Associate Professor of South Asian Art History and Visual Culture at Boise State University

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