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Landscape of a `naked country’

Beneath the ordinary world and everyday life in Bangalore, India, lies an extraordinary landscape, rich in material, language and innovation. Deccan Traverses explores this depth. This extraordinary exhibition is on at the Lalbagh Glass House. The exhibition concludes on October 22.

The exhibits tracked the artistic and scientific enterprises that put Bangalore on a world map in the late 18th Century and early 19th Century and set it on a course to becoming the Garden City of India.

These enterprises were largely initiatives of individuals of the East India Company whose Army in 1791 had opened the Mysore region, till then an “interior of the Indian peninsula” to the British occupation.

These enterprises introduced materials, ideas, images, skills, and indeed a “seeing” that was today taken for granted. But they revealed a world of resistance, elusive materials, languages or previous settlements and shifting boundaries.

Thorough drawings, photographs, texts and maps, Deccan Traverse took visitors to travel this unusual landscape of Bangalore: the beginnings of the survey of the Indian peninsula; the battle drawings and route surveys that developed the language of today’s maps; the introduction of and acclimatisation of plants from across the world; the intricate culture of tanks; the quarrying and ordinary use of some of the oldest rocks on earth, and the world behind threaded flowers, agarbathis, silk, and stone.

There are 90 reproductions of rare historical maps, paintings and drawings of the lower Deccan and Bangalore. With them were displayed 42 large “map prints”, hybrids of hand-pulled screen prints and digital drawings, and 16 photographic works of the ordinary and extraordinary elements of Bangalore. In 1800, the heart of the Mysore tableland was described by more than one traveller as “a naked country”; today it is called Bangalore.

During and following the Third Mysore War of 1791-92, surveyors gave the Mysore tableland a language that could be presented in maps — topography, settlements, water bodies and boundaries. It was the basis of military science and also of geography and administration. In 1800, William Lambton began in Bangalore the simultaneous effort of determining and the curvature of the earth in the latitudes of the Indian peninsula and laying the foundation for an accurate survey of India.

The Great Indian Arc that he initiated here became the spine of the Indian subcontinent.

Artists in the 1790s recorded and communicated about the region in terms of scenes and artefacts. Their picturing of buildings, animals, plants, towns, hills, and people had become the vocabulary of landscapes and the basis of documentation and visualisation in fields such as archaeology, anthropology, architecture and history.