A Cautionary Tale: Imperial stratagems and their impact on block-printing in India. 1700 -1900

Art history/ Historiography

A Cautionary Tale: Imperial stratagems and their impact on block-printing in India. 1700 -1900

Sethi, Ritu

Issue #007, Winter, 2021                                                               ISSN: 2581- 9410

From a 25% share of global trade in 1750, India’s share had by 1900 fallen to 2 percent. Its domestic market equally impacted, as India had by then become an importer of finished goods and an exporter of raw material.[i] The principal impact of this transition was first experienced in the field of textile manufacturing with reverberations across spinning, weaving and the specialised processes that India was famed for. This essay charts and analyses the events and imperial stratagems   that led to this debacle by focussing on the impact on the hand block-printing universe - covering not just the famed and celebrated prints and painted varieties but equally the more quotidian productions.[ii] Limiting itself to British colonial practices from the 17th century to the start of the 20th this essay provides the   barebones of this layered, complex to navigate landscape.[iii].

Setting the Context – 1700 -1800

At the start of the 17th c the negative impact on Britain’s domestic production of wool and silk and its trade imbalance was being largely blamed on the rage for the wildly fashionable block-printed and painted cotton textiles that were imported from Ind...

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