Exhibition: Dawn upon Delhi: Rise of a Capital

The National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi in collaboration with the Alkazi Foundation for the Arts present Dawn Upon Delhi: Rise of a Capital, an exhibition which portrays an illustrated journey through the rich history of Delhi as the Capital of India.

The exhibition focuses on Delhi of the late 19th and mid-20th century, seeking to arouse a capital, one that had been the epicenter of political and cultural life for many centuries, from the time of Qutub-ud-din Aibak and Shah Jahan, to the very present. Through richly detailed engravings, maps, plans, vintage and modern photographs, from the Alkazi Collection, as well as the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the Central Public Works Department archives (CPWD), and the archives of D.N. Chaudhuri and Habib Rahman (currently with Ram Rahman), we find that Delhi, located in the heart of Doab country, between two of India’s most holy rivers, Ganga and Yamuna, was important for any ruler to capture this strategic site in order to rule the northern region. And as much as the political life seeks nourishment, we see an emerging centre of the arts in the city, even in areas such as Shahjahanabad, with its meandering galis and animated vendors. The very same streets would then become part of the coronations of Delhi during the Imperial Coronations of 1877, 1903 and 1911.

The Delhi Coronation Durbars were at once self-appraising representations of Imperial power with a spectatorship that grew to almost 150,000 attendees by 1911. National and international publishers and periodicals covered these events, like New India, the Indian Mirror and Amrita Bazaar Patrika. By 1911 electricity was used even more extensively to illuminate the pathways around the tents at night. In contrast to the closeknit architecture of Old Delhi, the durbar city easily lent itself to panoramic photography. It is captured through photographers such as Vernon and Co., Johnston and Hoffmann, Bourne and Shepherd among artists such as Mortimer Menpes, a student of the famous European Artist, James McNeil Whistler. On the other hand, images from the ASI archives, represent a keen reportage of the historical sites for purposes of conservation and restoration.

A greatly transformed urban landscape emerged in photographs of the 1940s and 50s that focused on geographical zones of authority in New Delhi, such as the Parliament and Rashtrapati Bhavan, symbols of a rising nation-state, whose original plans by Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker are seen for the first time, together with photographs taken by an anonymous state photographer of the CPWD. However, with the rise of Delhi as the Capital of Modern India, we see the compelling growth in its infrastructure, opening up to its dwellers in new ways with the making of areas such as Connaught Place, some original plans of which are featured in the exhibition by Russell. Modern day practitioners featured in the exhibition such as D.N. Chaudhuri, a living press photographer from the 50s and 60s, captured a pictorial sense of the city, and carefully documented Delhi’s rise to current day urbanism.

We also see a few works of renown architect, Habib Rahman, shot in immediate aftermath of the making of Lutyens and Bakers New Delhi. His ingenious understanding of ‘modern architecture’ was shaped by both American and European Modern movements prevalent in the 1930’s and 40’s. He returned to India in 1947 to join the West Bengal’s Public Works Department, and in 1953, moved to Delhi as Senior Architect of the CPWD. His photographs however, engage in complex discourses – social, political and cultural – to be seen as a seamless thread that ties land to people, people to place and the latter to an artistic, almost altruistic anomaly created through the lens.

The exhibition is supported by contributions from:

The Alkazi Collection of Photography (ACP)

The Archaeological Survey of India

The Central Public Works Department

Ram Rahman (Habib Rahman Archive)

D.N. Chaudhuri Collection

The Publication:


The Delhi Coronation Durbars

Published by The Alkazi Collection of Photography in association with Mapin Publishing and the National Gallery of Modern Art

This volume explores how photography represented, idealized and publicized the Delhi Coronation Durbars, occasions marking the formal coronations of English monarchs as empress and emperors of India: Victoria in 1877, Edward VII in 1903 and George V in 1911. Formally schematized and instituted by the Viceroys of India—Lytton, Curzon and Hardinge—the durbars were the first examples of the aestheticisation of imperial politics and the inscription of the Raj in a celebratory history that served to legitimate colonial presence. Lasting several weeks, each lavish occasion was imaged and described in photographs (cartes-de-visite as well as private, popular and commissioned photos), paintings, press illustrations, illustrated souvenirs, memoirs, photo albums and films. The book focuses on photographs made for those who attended the Delhi Durbars and for a global audience who did not attend. It features vital photographs that were commissioned from the foremost British and Indian photographers such as Raja Deen Dayal & Sons, Vernon & Co., and Bourne & Shepherd, as well as those shot by amateur photographers. The essays in this volume focus on semiotics of image and the role of durbar photographs in visually rendering the complexities of colonial logic, the scopic regimes of surveillance and spectacle, and the pivotal ideologies and hyperbolic fantasies of a subjugated ‘Orient’ promoted by the imperial administrations to justify British rule in India.

Edited by: Julie F. Codell

With contributions from: James R. Ryan, Nicola J. Thomas, Saloni Mathur, Benjamin B. Cohen, Julie F. Codell, Deepali Dewan, Gita Rajan, Jim Masselos, Christopher Pinney

Information on Institutions

National Gallery of Modern Art

The National Gallery of Modern Art, the premier institution of modern art in the country has been focusing on photography, both as an art form and a record of the history of our times. Recently the NGMA mounted a retrospective exhibition of the eminent photographer Raghu Rai’s works. It also showed Nemai’s Ghosh’s collection of photographs on Satyajit Ray.

Honouring well known artists and photographers by mounting retrospective exhibitions has been an integral part of NGMA’s programme. It not only helps to trace the trajectory of the artists work, but also acquaints modern day viewers with the visual culture of the past. 

The Alkazi Foundation for the Arts

The Alkazi Foundation for the Arts is a registered charitable trust based in New Delhi. Over the last 30 years, Mr. Ebrahim Alkazi, the Foundation’s Chairman, has amassed a private collection of photographs known as The Alkazi Collection of Photography (www.acparchives.com), an archive of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century photographic prints from South and South-East Asia. The core of the Collection comprises works in the form of photographic albums, single prints, paper negatives and glass plate negatives from India, Burma, Ceylon, Nepal, Afghanistan and Tibet. Almost every region with a history touched by the British Raj is represented. These vintage prints document sociopolitical life in the subcontinent through the linked fields of history, architecture, anthropology, topography and archaeology, beginning from the 1840s and leading up to the rise of modern India and the Independence Movement of 1947.

The Foundation’s Curator in Delhi, Rahaab Allana, has overseen the cataloguing, documentation and research if the photographs with a dedicated team. This material is now increasingly available through exhibitions, seminars and publications, including Lucknow: City of Illusion, Traces of the Uprising: 1857, Vijayanagara: Splendour in Ruins, The Waterhouse Albums: Central Indian Provinces, Painted Photographs Coloured Portraiture in India, The Artful Pose: early Studio Photography in Mumbai, c.1850-1940, among others.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s