Unsettling “Acquisitions” and the Romance of a Shop

In the Victoria and Albert Museum, one thing was truly unsettling about our tour, and that was the fact that in response to various South Asian (specifically Indian) artifacts, our guide consistently referred to them as being “acquired.” In fact, I wrote down a quote directly from our guide in which she said, “They weren’t stolen, they were acquired.” Overall, though I thought the artifacts were absolutely stunning,  found it rather troubling the way that non-European culture was fetishized, while the people of those very cultures were still very much oppressed.

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Another thing I found particularly striking about the tour was our guide’s mention of the way that paintings were highly idealistic, favored views, more often than not. While these scenes captured much of the geographical essence of a place, they often presented a sanitized reality, rejecting and denying the truly gruesome reality that was. While passing through the galleries, we paid some extra attention to the bits of Victorian photography there. Naturally, I thought of Amy Levy’s The Romance of a Shop. Our guide explained that wealthy women often adopted photography as a hobby; for them, photography was purely a leisure activity. This is a stark contrast to Levy’s The Romance of a Shop, in which the Lorimer sisters begin their photography business because their only other option would be for the four of them to split up.

For me, the pervading theme of the day was denial of reality. Many English people (according to an employee at the Dickens Museum and what I observed from our guide) seem to resist England’s imperialistic past. This is somewhat good, in that it shows an awareness of prior wrongdoings, but it is still largely dangerous because of the egregious lack of accountability.

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