Parul Singh: Framing Reality: Photo-Mimetic Portraiture in the Windsor Castle Ishqnama Illustrated Manuscript
The Windsor Castle Ishqnama is an illustrated manuscript of an autobiographical text written in 1851 by Wajid Ali Shah, the last king of Awadh, detailing his love life. Hinging between two different eras, the Ishqnama Illustrations cite different scopic regimes at play in nineteenth century Awadh, as well as amalgamate elements of a wider visual nexus in photographs, painting, and theatre. The images are hybrid and self-conscious and are a site in which emerging technologies such as photography, along with the western system of single point perspective, are used in the traditionally valued format of the Islamicate illustrated manuscript. These paintings disrupt the customary depiction of an idealised portraiture of royal women, as they are now depicted using photographically realistic faces, juxtaposed with bodies rendered in the proportion types of idealised women. Produced at a specific spacio-temporal point in history, these curious hybrid set of paintings can be situated within a larger field of other fin de siècle photo-based images manipulated by techniques such as overpainting, collages and doubling, or the ‘xeno-real’ calendar images of gods made at the juncture of impending disintegration of the old order as it reacted to the emerging technology of photography. These images unravel and question wider beliefs regarding the relationship between image and reality, appearances and photographic ‘truths’. They present a critical moment in the development of a modern structure of vision, control and staging and also raise issues about selfhood, self-presentation and sexuality.
Parul Singh is a doctoral candidate from School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. For her doctoral thesis, she is investigating the visual culture of Awadh during the reign of Wajid Ali Shah, the last king of Awadh (r. 1847–1856). Her research re-examines the visual culture of Awadh in the light of its complex socio-political milieu, its royal political aspirations, tastes, influences and underlying traditions. Investigation of the visual culture reveals its importance for maintaining, and fortifying the power of the king. Parul Singh has been awarded the NTICVA (Nehru Trust for the Indian Collection at Victoria and Albert Museum) UK Visiting Fellowship (2015), NTICVA- CWIT (Charles Wallace India Trust ) joint study grant (2016), Inlaks Shivdasani Foundation travel grant (2015) and a study grant by the John Bissel Foundation (2017).