Moor mankind’. Keate suggested that discovery of ‘new

Moor subsequently
brought the sculptures, along with other artefacts, ‘back to England, and
deposited it, in the museum at India house’ where they lay for over a decade
before surmounting the pyramid at his ‘humble abode in Suffolk’. His writings
in the Hindu Pantheon would thus convey a sense that Moor rescued these
artefacts that had almost been destroyed by the Portuguese and by bringing them
back to England he had preserved them instead of letting them be buried in a
cave that had been afflicted by gunpowder.

 

Collecting in an
imperial context was not always justified as ‘preservation’ though and in fact
in order to properly understand the justification for such collecting other
justifications must be discussed. For example, Moor appears to be also driven
by sheer curiosity. He was genuinely interested to learn more about the Hindu
faith from the artefacts he acquired and he was motivated in the case of the
Elephanta cave in ‘discovering to whom this temple was dedicated’. This is not
isolated and in fact ‘artefacts of non-Western peoples were known over a long
period as “curiosities”‘. An interesting parallel can be drawn here with the
Pacific voyages of exploration that took place in the eighteenth century and
brought back a great deal of artefacts to Britain. The introduction to George
Keate’s Account of the Pelew Islands details how the voyages ‘excited a great
spirit of enquiry and awakened an eager curiosity to everything that can
elucidate the history of mankind’. Keate suggested that discovery of ‘new
people’ from previously unknown societies who were ‘an ornament to human
nature’ merely further illuminated the diversity of our species. It was for
this reason that collections of foreign peoples were displayed in London in the
mid-nineteenth century, such as the Colonial and Indian Exhibition which ran
for six months in South Kensington in 1886. This display of foreign people
included eighty-nine living ‘natives’ of which there were forty-six Indians.

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According to Sadiah Qureshi, they were displayed in ‘what was designed to be
their natural environment’ and they were ‘sometimes presented as historical
artefacts’, for example, ‘Indian artisans as timeless and authentic examples of
‘native’ craftsmanship’. People were, according to Triloyka Nath Mukharaji, an
official delegate from India, “astonished to see the Indians produce works of
art with the aid of rude apparatus they themselves had discarded long ago as a
Hindu would be to see a chimpanzee officiating as a priest in a funeral
ceremony”. Collecting in an imperial context was thus not always justified in
terms of ‘preservation’ but in fact, could be justified in terms of pure
curiosity.  

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