There’s an early edition book on my mother’s bookcase titled ‘Critical and Historical Essays’ by Lord Macaulay, published in 1843. It interested me at an age when I discovered critical thinking as a Marxist ideology, this book being published five years before the Communist Manifesto and 24 years before Das Kaptial. It turns out Macaulay’s essays are a pile of shite, one of which being a transcript of a speech he gave in parliament on dismantling native resistance to colonial occupation by, literally, removing education from the state entirely. This speech ended up being the influence of education policy in the Raj which still affects the post-colonial states of the Raj in 2020.
Working on the anti-imperialism series was an inevitability for me. What triggered the series was another discovery I made in my local charity bookshop, an 1882 edition of Heroes of Maritime Discovery. This book is beautiful, the leaves are gold tinted and the title is pressed into the front cover.
This book is not in print anymore, you can’t find it on internet searches. It turns out it was handed out as a graduation gift, indoctrinating generation after generation of educated boys. The pages of this book glorify European sailors and their ‘discovery’ of lands as an act of heroism. The language used in the book to describe the people the sailors come across in their journey is incredibly condescending and derisive. Whole groups of people and individuals alike are infantilized, their appearance is mocked and there is no judgement passed on the acts of cruelty they endured. Indeed, the writer seems to be more troubled by internal conflict amongst sailors than their mistreatment of the first people of the lands.
I wanted to print my series on this book, knowing that the edition would be limited to the pages I had at my disposal, but mostly to cover the words in the book with a representation of the history that rewrites the narrative of ‘discovery’ as one that brought with it military occupation, settlement and surveillance. There is a temporality in this act but also a permanence in printing over the text.
In writing my own narrative of the European discovery I wanted to start with military occupation. The Raj started as a military occupation of India enforced by the East India Company. My print is of the jacket worn by the first Governor of the East India Company who established military supremacy in the Bengal in the 18th century.
Locke wrote positively for the argument of settlement in America in particular and his arguments, formed in the period of European enlightenment, have been used as a justification for such imperial expansion ever since. Locke argues for economic benefit and legal and moral legitimacy of settlement in America, this benefit being for the European exclusively. In this we have the ideological prototype for Britain’s colonial expropriation in the vacant lands of North America, which would eventually develop into a moral and economic justification of colonial settlement across the world and form the argument for chattel slavery.
The third of the series is surveillance. This is for the ‘discover’ of so called, dark, unknown lands, which were emptied of their peoples and cultures so that their wilderness could be fixed and named and mapped by the white gaze. This print of a drone represents the surveillance that occurs internationally of lands far away from the gaze. The unmanned drone that sends back images for analysis and returns with bombs. This also represents the ,ass surveillance of Muslims for analysis and for your entertainment across the front pages and in thriller scripts in order to otherise us. The Muslim surveillance target – a new imperial apparatus and the latest form of racism that serves to justify imperialist violence and power.