Model subjects: representations of the Andaman Islands at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition, 1886

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This essay provides an analysis of the Andaman Islands exhibit at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition of 1886. It explores the ways in which a display of near-life-size clay models, complete with indigenous-made manufactures, presented a specific vision of the region to a popular British audience. Using visual evidence, archival material and contemporary commentary on the exhibition, the essay investigates the mechanics of the exhibition paradigm, documenting its impact upon audiences’ perceptions of the Andamanese peoples. It argues that the models were intended and were successfully received as tools with which to popularize scholarly judgements of the region’s peoples at the lowest point of a perceived sociocultural-evolutionary hierarchy, and demonstrates how this specific exhibit was employed as dynamic, decorative visual entertainment for a metropolitan audience. The implications of the substitution of clay figures for real human bodies will be examined, and it will be argued that this particular medium acted as an absorbent surface upon which British audiences could safely posit perceived ‘truths’ about their distant subjects. Whereas ‘living exhibits’ were able to challenge the terms of their representation, the static models were seen to verify colonial concerns regarding the violent depravity, overt sexuality and corporeal availability of the non-Western ‘other’.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)194-207
Number of pages14
JournalHistory Workshop Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2009

Bibliographical note

This is an un-refereed author version of an article published in Hist Workshop J (2009) 67 (1): 194-207


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