• Contesting Cultural Territory: Rereading Colonial Transformations of India’s Baghs
    Yakin Kinger

Unknown, “Palace garden in a river landscape, late Mughal, Oudh,” 1785. Opaque watercolor and gold on paper, 8 x 5 1/4 in. Courtesy Staatliche Museen zu Berlin—Preussischer Kulturbesitz

This research decodes the decline of baghs—royal landscape gardens—in colonial India by critiquing British imperial power politics to reexamine their histories and present a postcolonial reading. Revolutionaries employed baghs as sites of resistance against colonial rule during the uprising of 1857–58 and they became spaces of conflict and violence. With the shift in power from local rulers to the British colonial administration in the nineteenth century, baghs were largely appropriated to suit colonial interests of control and were eventually either erased or fell into disrepair; even the baghs of the Taj Mahal were replaced with lawns. These changes were significant markers of colonial occupation and power, played out in spatial transformations, often executed through demolition by bombardment, clearing vegetation, disbanding cultural activities, changing their purpose, or just sheer neglect. The transformations of the baghs were deeply connected with administrative policies, colonial desires and anxieties, and the loss of agency in the hands of the local powers. This project aims to expand the understanding of Indian cultural landscapes and their relationship to colonial power. Ultimately, this study expands postcolonial methodologies of investigation to include landscape architecture among new lines of postcolonial inquiry to help understand Indian cultural landscapes and their relationship to colonial power.

Yakin Kinger is an architect engaged in research, academics, and practice in Nashik, India. He holds a master’s degree in architectural history and theory from CEPT University. His research examines power-place relations in colonial India to decolonize architectural history writing by critically unpacking questions of land occupation, violence, and cultural domination. He presented “Palimpsestic transformation of Lucknow’s Baghs” at the 2023 Society of Architectural Historians (SAH) annual conference. In 2023, he received the SAH IDEAS Research Fellowship to investigate baghs as sites of violence during the uprising of 1857–58. This work was published as “Undoing Empire: Rereading the destruction of India’s Baghs” (Avery Review, 2023), having won second place at the Avery Review Essay Prize. He has also been actively expanding public-facing scholarship highlighting unheard and unknown histories by curating exhibitions, talks and symposiums, and digital heritage walks, among other formats.