Tibetan Materiality versus British ‘Ornamentalism’: Diplomacy, Objects and Resistance in the Imperial Archive

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This chapter offers a counterpoint to David Cannadine’s Ornamentalism by focusing on imperial ceremonial occasions and the important interventions made by materiality that came from beyond the British Empire’s frontiers. It draws attention to the ornaments in Ornamentalism by concentrating not just on representation; on what the empire looked like to the British, but on what objects meant and particularly what they were meant to do for those resisting the British Empire. Using the methodological framework of Materiality and Resistance and the case study of Tibet’s 9th Panchen Lama and his visit to British controlled India in 1905-06 this research counters the idea that Britain and its empire ‘represented itself to itself’. Instead the empirical evidence presented here shows that those who were coerced into participating in grand visualisations of empire resisted and reconfigured ceremonial occasions into images of their own making. As a result other kinds of Ornamentalism appeared and challenged what might seem to be tightly choreographed imperial spaces. In this specific case, culturally specific Ornamentalism was also used to talk over the British during these widely publicised ceremonial occasions enabling Tibetans to address other empires beyond the control of the British.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationObjects and Frontiers in Modern Asia
Subtitle of host publicationBetween the Mekong and the Indus
EditorsManjeet Baruah, Lipokmar Dzuvichu
Place of PublicationDelhi
ISBN (Electronic)9780429261909
ISBN (Print)9781138616073
Publication statusPublished - 6 May 2019


  • Resistance
  • Materiality
  • Tibet
  • Diplomatic encounters
  • British India
  • Ornamentalism
  • Frontiers
  • Knowledge Production
  • Archives


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