Displaying Independent India Abroad: Nationalism, Cultural Diplomacy and Collaboration at the Nehru Memorial Exhibition

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As the British Empire crumbled, a newly independent India forged fresh political and economic relations with its former colonial masters, the new global superpowers, and various decolonising nations of Asia, Africa and the Americas. Exhibitions arranged by the Indian Government and toured abroad would come to play a significant role in this promotion of the new nation’s outward facing identity. Of all such events, the Nehru Memorial Exhibition, commissioned by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs shortly after the death of the nation’s first Prime Minister in 1964, and designed to promote the story of India’s fight for freedom and the glory of its independence and modernity, can be seen as one of the most explicitly political exhibitions of the genre. Its trajectory throughout its long lifetime as it toured the US, UK, Kenya, Nigeria, Egypt, France, Japan, Australia, Chile and the USSR was certainly conveniently inline with the contours of India’s pragmatic mid-century economic transactions with both East and West, and its staunchly pan-Asian and non-aligned political vision for independence. Yet those who designed the Nehru Memorial Exhibition had complex engagements with these diplomatic agendas. Nehru’s farewell show was in fact co-designed by the office of American design duo Charles and Ray Eames with staff and students at India’s National Institute of Design (Ahmedabad). In many ways it was an opportunity for learning, collaboration and cross-cultural creativity at odds with the messages of nationalism, non-alignment and measured cultural diplomacy intended by certain government officials. This chapter explores the relationship between government agendas for cultural diplomacy and the practical realities and everyday experiences of those involved in exhibition design practice. In its focus on India, it also seeks to rupture classic Cold War considerations of design and diplomacy by exploring the impact of one Third World nation on such debates.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHeritage at the Interface: Interpretation and Identity
EditorsG. Hooper
Place of PublicationGainesville
PublisherUniversity Press of Florida
ISBN (Print)9780813056579
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2018


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