‘Clothing the Palace: Indo-Persianate Textile Experience in the Courts of Northern India’
Supervisor: Professor Sussan Babaie
Advisor: Professor Deborah Swallow
Funded by AHRC Doctoral Studentship, Consortium for the Humanities and Arts South-East England (CHASE)
My PhD explores the use of textiles as creators of spaces, moods and sensory experiences, in the palaces of Northern India during the early modern period (c.1550-1800). It focuses on how the material properties of textiles contained and intensified multi-sensory activities, ‘completing’ architecture built in stone. The multi-dimensional and richly decorated royal fabrics of India had their own material and emotional agency, containing, capturing, reflecting and intensifying sounds (rāgas, ghazals, classical Indian music and poetry in Persian and other languages), smells and tastes of courtly feasts, the heat, flickering lamp light and smells of perfumes and scents. These textiles created an ambience or an ‘emotional mood’ that is site-specific, shared, and that holds onto and contains traces of historical emotions and sensory encounters. Working through multi-disciplinary methodologies based largely in Indian philosophies of space, mood and the senses, my thesis aims to resituate textiles as a major part of palatial architecture, investigating how the palaces of Northern India were used, seen and felt.
Beginning with the vast tented cities set up around Timurid Samarqand, my PhD traces the journey of textile dwellings from their pre-Timurid Mongol beginnings to Babur’s victory at the battle of Panipat in 1526, when the last Timurid ruler became the first ‘Mughal’ emperor. My research then considers the palatial traditions of pre-Mughal Sultanate India, and the rich textile-clad sense-scapes of those palaces as recorded in contemporary texts and manuscript paintings. It then explores the palatial language of Northern India until the eighteenth century, asking how the palaces of the Mughals and Rajputs employed textiles in the completion of their royal world. Focussing on a group of tightly linked sites – Agra, Delhi, Fatehpur Sikri and Lahore- and Amber, Bundi, and Jodhpur among others, my research aims to reunite textiles and architecture as two inseparable halves of courtly spatial, sensory and emotional experience across the courts of Northern India, specific to its climate, culture and traditions. It will synthesise sources in a range of media- from manuscript painting, to textiles, buildings, poetry, classical music, cookbooks, scent manuals and historical chronicles- in order to reconstruct the lived experience of early modern Indian textiles, to rediscover how vital they were in completing India’s constructed princely worlds.
Thesis title: Clothing the Palace: Indo-Persianate Textile Experience in the Courts of Northern India.
The Courtauld Institute of Art
2019-21: MPhil Tibetan and Himalayan Studies
Thesis title: An Interwoven World: Sensory Experiences of Textiles in the Alchi Sumtsek.
The University of Oxford (The Queen’s College/Faculty of Oriental Studies)
2014-2017: BA (hons) History of Art
Dissertation title: From Fabric to Ceramic: Symbolic Experiences of Trellis Tents in the Khanate of Khiva.
The Courtauld Institute of Art
Joss Graham Gallery (2018-present): Joss Graham Gallery is a world-renowned centre for antiquities and textiles from around the world, but specialising in antique textiles from the Indian Subcontinent. Working here has enabled me to develop a keen interest and deep knowledge of textiles and arts from the Indian Subcontinent, Tibet, the Himalayas, South West China, Western Africa and Burma. I have technical experience in working with and restoring antique textiles, and have been involved in public events and private views, hanging new displays of antique works of art, dealing with curators, lecturers and collectors, and with helping with public engagement on social media. I have experience in working with major interior design companies, and with bespoke-made products. As part of my work, I have been fortunate enough to attend pre-auction exhibitions at Christie’s Auction House, attend meetings with textile conservators, and also to carry out research for dating and identifying numerous textiles and other artefacts.
Turkmen Gallery (2017-8): The Turkmen Gallery is a specialist commercial gallery in London, which acts to promote the traditional arts and crafts industries of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Qaraqalpaqstan. It is primarily a textiles gallery, and I was responsible for products both new and from the nineteenth century.
Turquoise Mountain (2017-8): I worked as a Research Volunteer under the Cultural Protection Fund to academically investigate Murad Khani, the historic nineteenth-century centre of Kabul, Afghanistan. This project aimed to underpin the restoration work carried out by Turquoise Mountain on site, where traditional crafts industries are taught and encouraged, something I am deeply passionate about.
Courtauld Institute of Art Annual Book Sale (2015-7): I helped with the organising, collecting, pricing, setting up, and selling at the Courtauld book sale in 2015 and 2016.
I have a thorough knowledge of spoken and literary Tibetan (བོད་སྐད་/ཡིག), and conversational skills in Uzbek (O’zbekcha). I also have experience reading in Russian (Ру́сский Язы́к).
For my PhD research I have strengthened and extended my existing knowledge of Persian (فارسی) and am studying Hindi (हिन्दी) and Urdu (اُردُو).
Teaching and Lectures
2022: Guest Lecturer, ‘Spaces, Moods and Senses: Textiles and Palaces in Northern India’, BA History of Art, George Washington University
2022: Special Public Lecture, ‘How can we Capture the Feelings of the Past? Encounters with Textiles and Spaces in Mughal India’, Mehr Chand Mahajan DAV College for Women, Panjab University.
Professional and Academic Memberships
- One of the founding members of the Textile Working Group at The Courtauld Institute
- Fellow at The Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
- Member of The Oriental Rug and Textile Society
- Member of The Indian Art Circle
- Consultant volunteer translator for the Himalayan Tribal Buddhist Welfare Society (हिमालय बौद्ध जनजातीय कल्याण सभा / ཧི་མཱ་ལ་ཡའི་ནང་པའི་རིགས་རྒྱུད་བདེ་དོན་ཚོགས་པ།)
Indian textiles; Mughal art, painting and architecture; Rajput art, painting and architecture; Classical Indian music; Indian dance and costume; Pre-Mughal India; The History of Emotions in India; Sensory Theory; British India; Hindi literature; Persian Literature; Urdu literature; Timurid architecture, painting and portable arts; The Silk Roads; Mongol and Il Khanid art and architecture; Tibetan and Nepalese art and architecture; Tibetan language; Newar architecture of the Kathmandu Valley; Tibetan and Nepalese jewellery; Tibetan thangka painting; The Himalayan silk route; Architecture in Ladakh; Himalayan languages; Himalayan textiles.