British artists, The Singh Twins, have been commissioned by Royal Collection Trust
to create a contemporary response to Splendours of the Subcontinent, which includes Four Centuries of South Asian Paintings and Manuscripts and A Prince's Tour of India 18756, which opened to the public at The Queens Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London on 8th June.
Presented as a tryptic, the Twins artwork, titled Rule Britannia:Legacies of Exchange, is inspired by and incorporates selected treasures from the exhibitions including South Asian paintings and manuscripts from the Royal Library, and arms and armour, decorative objects, and jewellery gifted to Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, by local rulers during his tour of the subcontinent in 1875-6. In keeping with the Twins highly symbolic, decorative, narrative and thought provoking style, the piece, which is displayed in the Queens Gallery Millar Learning Room, provides contexts for interpreting these objects as well as offering insights into their modern day relevance.
As an initial starting point for the commission, The Singh Twins focused on one of the star objects in A Prince's Tour of India 18756,: an enamelled, gold and jewell encrusted inkstand in the form of a peacock-shaped boat, which features prominently within the artwork. The Twins offer diverse interpretations of this object that reflect on the symbolism of the boat and the importance of maritime transportation to the history of British Indian relations: exploring interconnected themes around maritime trade and exploration, cultural exchange, Empire, British colonialism and it's legacies. They also consider how this beautiful object made of precious materials represents Indias rich heritage of skilled craftsmanship and the legendary opulence and wealth of its rulers. The peacock itself (as the national bird of India) is used to symbolise Indian heritage and identity.
Other imagery that respond to the Prince of Wales gifts as a whole, represents how public exhibitions of these gifts at the time helped cultivate wider appreciation of Indian aesthetics, which fed into the European exotic orientalist view of India and the development of British markets for both Indian and Indian design-inspired goods. Whilst further imagery represents the purpose of the Princes India tour, the places he visited and the significance of the gifts he received.
As a triptych, the artwork presents a time line of British trade, rule and cultural relations with India from 1600 to 1947 and represents the important role played by British Royalty (from Tudors, to Stuarts, to Hanovers and Windsors) as promoters of Indo-British trade, trend setters in Indian taste and fashion, and patrons of Indian craftsmanship.
Key elements of the composition draw on a Guildhall invitation card created for the Welcome Home reception for the Prince of Wales in 1876, as well as the Imperial Mughal durbar scenes from the Padshanama manuscript in the Royal Collection. Whilst details throughout the work highlight the hidden stories, cross cultural exchange, politics and scientific innovations that marked British connections with India centred on trade in Indian luxury and consumer commodities for over three centuries - from 1600 (when a Royal charter to trade with India was first granted by Elizabeth I to the East India Company) to the end of the British Raj and Partition of India in 1947. The centre panel in the tryptic celebrates the positive legacy of this Indo-British relationship - not least, the contribution of India and the Asian community to Britain. Amongst some of the figures represented, are the Indian Princess suffragette, Sophia Duleep Singh; WWI Ace pilot, Hardit Malik; the Sikh architect who helped design the Durbar Room at Osbourne House, Bhai Ram Singh; Britains Got Talent finalists, Signature, and the man who gave Britain curry and shampoo, Sake Dean Mahomed.
In highlighting aspects of shared Indo-British history, culture and identity rooted in trade, this new commission continues the Twins ongoing interest in interconnected themes around Empire, conquest, colonialism and its legacies explored, most recently, in their highly successful solo exhibition Slaves of Fashion, which was hosted by the Walker Art Gallery earlier this year. Like their Slaves of Fashion series, the commission represents a new phase in the Twins artistic development: combining the minutely detailed, hand painted techniques for which they are known (influenced by traditional Indian miniatures), with digitally created imagery, to create mixed medium works on fabric that are presented as large scale, lightbox artworks.
Talking about the commission the Singh Twins said: We are delighted to have been invited to create new work responding to such a diverse and exquisite range of fascinating treasures from the Royal Collection. Exploring how to present these for modern audiences, in a visually impactful and meaningful way was challenging. Not only because every object had its own story to tell and could be interpreted from different perspectives, but because the interconnected aspects of British-Indian relations which they embody individually and collectively, are complex.
Its been an immensely enjoyable and rewarding project which has enabled us to push the boundaries of our creative techniques even further. We hope our artwork will encourage visitors to Splendours of the Subcontinent to view the treasures on display not just as objects of beauty that belong to the past, but as embodiments of a collective heritage and identity that remains relevant today.
The Singh Twins commission is on display at the Millar Learning Room, The Queens Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London until 14th October 2018.
There will be a unique opportunity to join The Singh Twins as they discuss their work in detail at an in conversation ticketed event on Wednesday 26th September 2018, 18:30-21:00. The evening concludes with a private view of Splendours of the Subcontinent and special look at their new digital artwork in the Millar Learning Room.
After the close of Splendours of the Subcontinent, the artwork Rule Britannia: Legacies of Exchange will return to The Singh Twins personal touring collection, as an addition to their Slaves of Fashion series.
The Singh Twins are London born British artists with an international reputation whose work has been cited by Sir Simon Schama as representing the artistic face of modern Britain. Formal recognition of their contribution to contemporary art includes an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Art from the University of Chester awarded in 2015, as well as being awarded MBEs in the Queens Birthday Honours list in 2011. Amongst some of their most well known public commissions are two paintings celebrating Liverpools 800th birthday and status as European Capital of Culture in 2008; A symbolic portrait of Maharaja Duleep Singh (National Museums Scotland) and EnTWINed (The Museum of London). In 2010 they were made Honorary Citizens of their home city of Liverpool.
More recently, The Twins latest exhibition, Slaves of Fashion:New Works by The Singh Twins, was profiled in one of the regional documentaries commissioned for the BBCs Civilisations series and has been shortlisted for the forthcoming Eastern Eye Arts Culture and Theatre Awards.
A road trip to India as teenagers introduced The Twins to the Indian Miniature Painting tradition which - together with the prejudice they experienced when trying to develop the style as their personal artistic language - has been a major driving force behind their art. Describing their style as Past - Modern (as opposed to Post Modern) the sisters combine ancient Eastern and Western artistic languages with modern digital technologies to address contemporary social, cultural and political issues. Their award winning work, challenges and redefines generally accepted, Eurocentric perceptions of heritage and identity in art and society.
In 2002, The Twins were appointed official artists in residence to the Manchester Commonwealth Games. Past exhibitions include solo shows hosted by Londons National Portrait Gallery, Liverpools Walker Art Gallery, National Museums Scotland and the National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai and National Gallery of Modern Art, Delhi when, in 2002, they were the only British artist (besides Henry Moore) to have been offered a solo show at this, one of Indias foremost venues for Contemporary Art . In 2016 The Singh Twins were extended a special invitation to participate in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition and their public commission for the Museum of London which offers their personal response to two famous Victorian paintings on the theme of the Indian Mutiny or First War of Indian Independence, was selected for Tate Britains Artist and Empire touring exhibition.
Previous Radio and Television appearances include interviews for the BBCs Womens Hour, Mid Week, Front Row and Belief; CBCs Here And Now, the Granada TV documentary Singh Out Sisters and the BBC art series 'The Face of Britain'. An independently commissioned Arts Council film about their work, Alone Together, received 'The Best Film on Art' prize at the 2001 Asolo International Film Festival.