*The problem with painting about another time and place

'Emerald Mutton' installation view, October 2016, Nunn's Yard
'Initially I responded viscerally to the beauty of the archive images with their intense dark eyes, baroque headgear and the sense of aliveness/deadness.The ideas that interested me included the Indian profile and the European gazes, 'darshan' - you behold the deity and the diety beholds you; the princes' distain for the portrait gift exchange system foisted on them by the British and the maharajahs' increasing refusal to wear the or richly symbolic nate costumes that led to the British perception that they ere decadent, mystical and in need of governance.

However I have found it increasingly difficult to both make a painting that works as a painting and means what I mean it to mean. If asked what the paintings were about I have said the frontal pose was reminiscent of the passport photo, the icon, the mugshot, the face on the mummy's case - the most direct engagement between subject and object, which I was then subverting with small painterly devices that defied engagement - blots of paint over the eyes, a tongue sticking out, a funny nose that to me conveyed the object refusing to be engaged with. They are about admiring the Indian's self-presentation, and having a living conversation with some dead people.

I became aware that what seemed to be to be droll in the painting could seem mocking, that in altering the images I was doing what Said railed against - not allowing the subjects to speak for themselves. I knew little of the horrible behaviour of the East India Company and then the British Raj, of post-colonial theory, or much of philosophy or cultural theory, beyond what a year of reading history has given me.

However I feel that these difficulties of negotiating an unfamiliar culture shouldn't preclude my making paintings that have a benign impulse behind them, while I'm also anxious that my naiveté will make them liable to be received as offensive and patronising in ways I'm not able to foresee.' Stephanie Douet October 2016

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