The Hill Palace museum, located in Thrippunithura, Cochin, acts as an archaeological museum, and the Centre for Heritage Studies. Its construction began in the 1850s, with new buildings being continually built within the compound up to 1986. It previously functioned as the administrative offices for, and for a period of time, the official residence of the royal family of the Kingdom of Cochin. This OUR (Opportunities for Undergraduate Research) project uses the Gallery of Paintings within the museum as its site of study, and tries to trace the narrative constructed through the curation of the works of art.
The Gallery of Paintings houses both oil paintings as well as photographs of the Maharajas of Cochin. Ranging from the 1850’s to the late 1940’s, these objects were created by a variety of artists. This project will examine the narrative constructed by the pictures in dialogue with each other, as well as the changes apparent in the works over the roughly ninety-year period. These objects were created, ‘framed’ and circulated in the colonial period, and reflect the emergence of colonial modernity. The research will navigate both the stylistic changes and the aesthetic value of these paintings and photographic images. It will also refer to a specific narrative, that of Hill Palace as a state museum, and therefore distanced from the ‘centre of calculation’ (Nair 2005, 281). The temporal and spatial ideas behind museumizing the objects of Hill Palace will also be investigated. The project will also locate the importance of the photographic image in the gallery and its dialogic placement with the paintings.
The study will primarily focus on the site of the museum as a space of knowledge production through records of provenance, acquisition, and conservation. It will also involve a visit to the Kerala State Archives, which has a central unit in Trivandrum, as well as a regional unit in Ernakulam, wherein the records from the Kingdom of Cochin were stored, after the merging of the kingdoms of Travancore and Cochin. The examination of archival material, will give insight into the ideas of/around collection in art. By tracing the changes in the collection of the museum as it transforms (on the institutional level), a sense of how this narrativization happens over longer periods of time can be comprehended. The works of art in their ‘after life’ (that is, after completion) can be seen constituting different narratives in multiple social and cultural contexts.