‘TIPU’S TIGER’, 1793 (now in Victoria and Albert museum, London)


Image: Wikimedia Commons

‘Tipu’s Tiger’ is a wooden carved music box/automaton in the form of a tiger overpowering an English soldier. The mechanical tiger lunges at the soldiers neck as the music plays, and the soldier’s hand lifts in supplication. It appears that the tiger started life as bit of an inside joke between the Sultan Tipu and a French music box-maker, at the expense of the imperial British. After it was looted from Tipu’s palace in India by the British, it’s meaning shifted – neatly fitting in to the rhetoric of imperial Britain, which depicted the tiger as a symbol of barbarism and an explanation of the project of empire and the ‘civilising force’ required to control such peoples. It is now also a comment on the social significance of art objects, and the importance of context in shaping the objects story.  It’s a really interesting piece. Go see it!!

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