THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

News from our curators and colleagues

Introduction

Our Asian and African Studies blog promotes the work of our curators, recent acquisitions, digitisation projects, and collaborative projects outside the Library. Our starting point was the British Library’s exhibition ‘Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire’, which ran 9 Nov 2012 to 2 Apr 2013 Read more

02 July 2015

West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song

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As the 'Africa Writes' festival comes to the Library this weekend and we celebrate literature from the continent, we are also thrilled that tickets are now available for our major autumn exhibition, 'West Africa: World, Symbol, Song' which opens on October 16 at our St Pancras site in London. 

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Odwira festival, Asante, Ghana, from Thomas Edward Bowdich, Mission from Cape Coast Castle to Ashantee (London: John Murray, 1819)
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This will be the British Library’s first major exhibition on Africa. It will showcase music and literature – both written and oral – from the region, and demonstrate how West Africans have harnessed the power of words to build societies, drive political movements, sustain religious belief and fight injustice. In doing so it will reference a millennium of history and bring visitors right up to the present.

Throughout, we are telling the story of how word, symbol and song have shaped history, politics and religion in West Africa and beyond. The region has a remarkable number of graphic systems and locally invented scripts, some of recent origin, some centuries or even millennia old. West Africans have also invented numerous other means of long-distance communication. The language of ‘talking drums’ is the most famous, as in this recording of Asante atumpan drums, made by Robert Sutherland Rattray in Ghana in 1921. There are also other sonic systems – ‘talking whistles’, for example – as well as coded objects, such as the ‘aroko’ messages, formed of cowrie shells and seeds, of Nigeria.

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One of the earliest records of the Vai script, invented in Liberia in the first half of the 19th century. 1851 (British Library Add MS 17,817b)
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Then there is the manuscript culture of the region, which owes its origin and development to the adoption of Islam. The manuscripts of Timbuktu, in present-day Mali, are deservedly famous, but it is not as well known that centres of learning and scholarship flourished as far apart as Mauritania and Nigeria. In many of these centres, manuscript libraries survive today.

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Page from an illuminated Qur’an in a style typical of the region of southern Niger, northern Nigeria and Chad, late 18th/early 19th century  (British Library Or 16,751)
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Alongside the rich heritage of writing in West Africa – which is flowering today in new forms – we are emphasising the importance of oral literature, an intensively creative art form expressed across a range of genres. Orature, as it is sometimes called, draws on the resources of the past but is constantly recreated in performance. It has deep musical roots and is as often sung as spoken, most famously by West Africa’s griots (story-tellers and musicians).

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Griots – West African musicians and story-tellers. From Alexander Gordon Laing, Travels in the Timannee, Kooranko, and Soolima countries in western Africa (London: J. Murray, 1825)
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All these threads are brought together as visitors walk through the exhibition. We begin with precolonial West Africa, and go on to the major religions and their various traditions of art, writing and ritual. Moving beyond the region, we look next at the transatlantic slave trade and the role of culture – writing, religion, music, carnival – in resistance. In West Africa, writing and song offered important ways of protesting and reflecting on public life during the colonial era and beyond, and these are the subject of our ‘Speaking Out’ section. The exhibition finishes with ‘Story Now’ – the marvellous and multi-faceted literary flowering of the region from independence to the present.

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This forowa or sheet-brass box will be loaned to the British Library for the exhibition by the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. It comes from Ghana and is rich in symbolic content. Ghana, before 1900.  Photograph courtesy of the Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford

Audio-visual items from the British Library’s collections and elsewhere – music, film, stories and other recordings – have been carefully curated and woven through the story. Manuscripts, books and photographs from our collections are joined by numerous loans, including colourful printed textiles, miniature gold-weight sculptures and modern artworks.

The exhibition has been in preparation for more than four years, and the curators have engaged in extensive external consultation, which has helped to shape the focus, direction and content of the project. We are currently working with an external Advisory Panel, chaired by Dr Gus Casely-Hayford. The curators are Dr Marion Wallace (Lead Curator, African Collections) and Dr Janet Topp Fargion (Lead Curator, World and Traditional Music).

The exhibition runs from 16 October 2015 to 16 February 2016. Booking is open now at www.bl.uk/west-africa. An exciting and diverse programme of events will run alongside the exhibition.


Marion Wallace, African Collections, Asian and African Studies
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29 June 2015

Panji stories in Malay

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Stories of the Javanese culture hero Prince Panji probably date from around the 13th century, and mark the development of a truly Javanese literature no longer overshadowed by the great Indian epics the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Set around the Javanese kingdoms of Kuripan and Daha, the stories tell of Panji’s search for his beloved, Princess Candra Kirana, and his many adventures, undertaken in various disguises and with a range of different names, before the lovers are reunited. During the Majapahit empire from the 14th to 15th centuries the Panji stories became extremely popular, and the figure of Panji is found engraved on temple reliefs (always wearing a distinctive cap on his head), while the Panji tales came to constitute the repertoire of wayang gedog theatrical performances. The British Library holds eight Javanese manuscripts containing Panji stories including Panji Kuda Waneng Pati (Add. 12319), Serat Panji Kuda Narawongsa (Add.12333), Serat Panji Murdaningkung (Add. 12345), Panji Angreni (MSS Jav 17) and the beautifully illustrated Panji Jaya Kusuma (MSS Jav 68), all described in the catalogue by Ricklefs & Voorhoeve.

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Prince Panji (on the right) hands a letter to his clown-retainers (panakawan) Bancak and Dhoyok, in a Javanese Panji romance, 19th century. British Library, Or. 15026, f.85r (det.)  noc

Panji tales are found not only in the Javanese literary tradition but also in Balinese and Malay, and on the Southeast Asian mainland in Thai, Lao, Khmer and Burmese versions, where the hero-prince is known as Inao (after his main Javanese name, Raden Inu Kartapati). The Panji stories appear to have been translated into Malay at an early date, perhaps in the cosmpolitan port city of Melaka in the 15th century, and influences can be discerned in the Malay texts Sejarah Melayu and Hikayat Hang Tuah. Over a hundred different Panji stories in Malay are known, in numerous manuscripts, many originating from the northern peninsular states of Kelantan and Kedah where wayang (shadow puppet) stories were most popular.

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Sketch of Panji, wearing his distinctive rounded cap, found in a Malay manuscript of Hikayat Dewa Mandu, copied in Semarang, 1785. British Library, Add. 12376, f. 219r (det.).

The British Library holds ten Malay manuscripts containing Panji stories or related tales, all of which have now been fully digitised:
MSS Malay C 1, Hikayat Cekel Waneng Pati. Under the name Cekel Waneng Pati, Panji undergoes innumerable trials to regain his love Raden Galuh Candra Kirana: he captures the deer with golden antlers, solves riddles, cures Candra Kirana of illness, defeats a black-bearded villain, himself falls ill but is cured by his son Mesa Tandraman who obtains a heavenly flower of blood from a nymph’s bosom, and wins yet more battles before all can finally live happily ever after.
MSS Malay C 2, another copy of Hikayat Cekel Waneng Pati, dated 1787.
Or. 11365, possibly another copy of Hikayat Cekel Waneng Pati, written on Javanese paper, acquired from Kelantan.
MSS Malay C 3, Hikayat Mesa Tandraman, about the son of Panji, copied in Penang by Ibrahim for Raffles in 1806.
Add. 12380, Syair Mesa Gumitar, about a king of Kuripan, apparently related to the Panji stories.
Add. 12383, Hikayat Carang Kulina.
Add. 12387, Hikayat Mesa Taman Sira Panji Jayeng Pati, written on Javanese paper.
Add. 12391, Hikayat Naya Kusuma, where the hero is named Mesa Susupan Sira Panji Kelana Asmara Pati.
Or. 16446, an unidentified Panji tale, starting with the Maharaja of Jenggala, written on Javanese paper in romanized Malay.
Or. 16447, ff. 89v-91r, a fragment of the Syair Ken Tambuhan, copied in Taiping in 1888.

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Opening pages of Hikayat Cekel Waneng Pati. British Library, MSS Malay C 1, ff. 1v-2r.  noc

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Opening pages of the Syair Mesa Gumitar. British Library, Add. 12380, ff. 3v-4r.  noc

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The seduction scene from Syair Ken Tambuhan, whose name, in this manuscript, is always spelt Ken Tabuhan (Ken Tabuhan terlalai dalam seketika / kainnya terlingsir lalu terbuka / pinggangnya bagai taruk angsuka / Inu mencium melakukan suka). British Library, Or. 16447, f. 89v (det.)  noc

The large number of manuscripts still found today testify to the enduring popularity of Panji stories in the Malay world, but the continuing enjoyment of literature rooted in the pre-Islamic era was never uncontroversial, as graphically demonstrated by the earliest of the Malay Panji manuscripts in the British Library. This is a copy of Hikayat Cekel Waneng Pati written by a scribe named Da'ut, possibly in the environs of Kedah, and dated 10 Zulhijah 1201 (23 September 1787). Above the text frames on the opening page on the right is an exhortation to readers not to believe the contents of this story, with a similar comment on the left-hand page addressed to listeners (reflecting the fact that traditional Malay tales were not designed to be read silently by an individual, but were recited aloud to an audience). On a later page the threat posed by this ancient Javanese fantasy tale to Muslim faith is made explicit, and thereafter, the top of every single right-hand page of this manuscript of 151 folios bears the warning: ‘don’t believe this!’ (jangan beriman akan). 

In early 17th-century Aceh, the stern theologian Nuruddin al-Raniri decreed that copies of the Hindu-infused romance Hikayat Inderaputera should be banished for use in the lavatory, and, judging the writings of Shaykh Shamsuddin al-Sumatrani heretical, consigned his books to the flames.  The late 18th-century Malay scribe Da'ut has taken a different and very pragmatic approach, of boldly and visibly plastering his book with spiritual health warnings while leaving the text itself intact, so that those prepared to brave the morally hazardous terrain filled with deities, ogres, cross-dressing princesses and magic potions might venture forth at their own risk.

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Opening pages of Hikayat Cekel Waneng Pati, prefaced at the top with a strict message to readers and listeners: 'Will all readers please make sure not to take this book to heart because it's really just a pack of lies, and will you also please stress to your listeners on each page that they should not believe it' (Maka hendaklah tuan yang membaca surat ini jangan menaruh iman di dalam hati karena semata sekaliannya itu dusta belaka dan lagi / tuan2 kata akan pada sekalian orang yang menengar surat ini pada tiap2 halai tekan pada mereka itu, jangan beriman akan). British Library, MSS Malay C 2, ff. 1v-2r noc

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One full page of the manuscript of Hikayat Cekel Waneng Pati is dedicated to a warning about its potential impact on faith: 'Never fail to keep in mind Allah and His Prophet when you read this book; these Javanese stories are a tissue of fantasies, composed simply for amusement by writers whose skills were different from those of people now, and so these tales of olden times just read like nonsense today' (Jangan sekali-sekali lupa akan Allah dan rasulNya pada tatkala membaca surat ini perkataan surat Jawa ini terlalu amat dusta sekali oleh dicandakan orang yang menyurat yang bijaksana orang tetapi bukannya orang pada masa ini dahulu punya perbuatan ini maka orang sekarang ini sedikit2 dicandanya pulak jadilah perpanjanglah kata). British Library, MSS Malay C 2, f. 5r (det.)   noc

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At the top of every single right-hand page, there is an appeal to readers not to believe the contents: jangan beriman akan. British Library, MSS Malay C 2, f. 8v (det.)   noc

Further reading:
V.I. Braginsky, The heritage of traditional Malay literature: a historical survey of genres, writings and literary views.  Leiden: KITLV, 2004, pp. 156-175.
Lydia Kieven, Following the Cap-figure in Majapahit temple reliefs: a new look at the religious function of East Javanese temples, 14th and 15th centuries. Leiden: Brill, 2013.
M.C.Ricklefs, P.Voorhoeve† and Annabel Teh Gallop, Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain: a catalogue of manuscripts in Indonesian languages in British public collections. New Edition with Addenda et Corrigenda. Jakarta: Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient, Perpustakaan Nasional Republik Indonesia, Yayasan Pustaka Obor Indonesia, 2014.
R.O. Winstedt, A history of classical Malay literature.  Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1977; summary of Hikayat Cekel Waneng Pati on pp. 2231-250.

Pameran naskah cerita Panji: Exhibition of Panji manuscripts in Javanese, Balinese and Malay at the National Library of Indonesia, October 2014

Related blog posts: Soother of sorrows or seducer of morals? The Malay Hikayat Inderaputera

With thanks to Lydia Kieven for advice, and for identifying the sketch of Panji above.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia   ccownwork

24 June 2015

Captain Linnaeus Tripe: Photographer of India and Burma

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Unknown Photographer, Portrait of Major-General Linnaeus Tripe (1822-1902), Madras Army, (?)1880s, British Library, Photo 612(1).  noc

Once heard, the exotically-named Linnaeus Tripe is difficult to forget. Yet even in his own lifetime and certainly in the century and more since his death in 1902, appreciation of one of the most accomplished photographers in 19th-century India has been restricted to a limited circle of photographic and architectural historians. A comprehensive survey exhibition of his work, to which the British Library was a major lender, has been on show at the National Gallery of Art in Washington and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York over the past nine months. The third venue of this exhibition, opening at the Victoria and Albert Museum on 24 June, will give British audiences the opportunity to see some 70 examples of his work from Burma and South India.

Tripe entered the Madras Army in 1839, and probably learned photography during his first furlough to England in 1851–53. A small number of photographs taken in England during this period survive and in early 1853 he also became one of the founding members of the Photographic Society of London. But it was his return to India that saw the creation of his first extensive body of work. In late 1854 he travelled across country from Bangalore in the company of another early amateur photographer Dr Andrew Neill to make a detailed photographic survey of the extravagantly sculptured Hoysala temples at Halebid and Belur. These photographs received glowing reviews when they were exhibited in Madras in 1855 and paved the way for a major photographic commission from the authorities in Calcutta.

In the course of three wars of encroachment between 1824 and 1885, the expanding imperial domain of British India swallowed up the Burmese empire. After the conclusion of the second of these conflicts in 1853, it was decided that a mission should be sent to the Burmese capital, high up the Irrawaddy at Amarapura, to attempt to persuade the new Burmese king Mindon Min to ratify a treaty transferring the conquered territory of Pegu to British rule. While no great hopes were entertained for the success of this objective, it was seen as a rare opportunity to gather information about a country hitherto largely closed to western penetration. The Governor-General Lord Dalhousie considered that a visual record of the journey ‘would convey to the Government a better idea of the natural features of the neighbouring Kingdom of Burmah than any written report’ and that ‘sketches of the people and of cities and palaces … would give a life and interest to the future report of the Mission.’ To this end the artist Colesworthy Grant was chosen to accompany the mission (the resulting watercolours are held in the Library’s collections, shelfmark WD540). Photography had also recently begun to be encouraged and sponsored by the East India Company for the documentation of Indian architecture and Tripe, considered ‘very highly qualified in his field’, was also selected for the mission.

The party with its military escort steamed upriver on the Irrawaddy in August 1855, bearing as well as personnel and supplies, 59 crates of gifts designed to impress and gratify an eastern potentate. These included textiles, jewels, candelabra and swords, as well as more diverting amusements such as musical birds, a pianola and a polyrama (a popular optical toy presenting, in this case, dissolving views of Paris by day and night). Scientific instruments, including telescopes and sextants, were selected with the queen in mind, since she was known to be of a ‘scientific turn’ with a particular interest in astronomy. News of photography had by this time also reached the Burmese court and to satisfy the king’s interest in ‘sun pictures’ a complete set of daguerreotype equipment was also to be presented to him. Whether this last give was ever used seems doubtful, however, since Tripe’s attempts at teaching photography to one of the king’s servants were abandoned through lack of time and the man’s ‘desultory’ attendance at the lessons.

In the course of the mission’s journey, and over the six weeks it remained in residence at the capital, Tripe produced over 200 paper negatives of Burmese scenes, which represent photography’s first extensive encounter with Burma. While senior officials negotiated politely but ineffectively with their Burmese counterparts, Tripe produced around 50 photographs of the Burmese capital and the surrounding country. Within a few years Amarapura was to be abandoned in favour of a new capital a few miles upriver at Mandalay and Tripe’s prints constitute a unique documentation of the city and its environs before nature reclaimed its stupas, walls and palaces.

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Linnaeus Tripe, Colossal statue of Gautama close to the north end of the wooden bridge, Amarapura, 1855. British Library, Photo 61/1(46).  noc

Tripe also explored as far upriver as Mingun, photographing King Bodawpaya’s grandiose and crumbling stupa (never completed and severely damaged by the earthquake of 1839). On both the outward and return journey the mission also stopped to survey the great plain of temples at Bagan—monuments of a previous ruling dynasty—and here Tripe made the first photographs of the principal landmarks of the site. As the mission’s secretary Henry Yule later wrote: ‘Pagan surprised us all. None of the previous travellers to Ava had prepared us for remains of such importance and interest.’ Their hurried tour also found time to note the elaborately carved wooden architecture of the monasteries, ‘rich and effective beyond description; photography only could do it justice.’

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Linnaeus Tripe, Carved wooden doorway in the courtyard of the Zhwe Zigong Pagoda, Bagan, 1855. British Library, Photo 61/1(25).  noc

On the mission’s return to India, Tripe set about printing 50 sets of a portfolio of 120 selected Burmese views, a massive labour that was not to be completed until early 1857. Each paper negative had to be individually exposed in a frame in sunlight before developing, fixing and mounting the resulting print on card. To add to his labours, Tripe (or his Indian assistants) meticulously retouched many of the images, improving the appearance of foliage and the skies. The photographic chemistry of the period—predominantly sensitive to the blue end of the spectrum—tended to produce over-exposed and starkly blank skies. To remedy this, Tripe skilfully added skies and clouds by painting directly onto the surface of the negative, a remarkably effective technique that adds character and interest to these subtly toned studies of Burmese architecture. The demands of such work—involving the manual production of more than 6,500 mounted prints—are a striking demonstration of Tripe’s adherence to an aesthetic vision far beyond the requirements of pure documentation.

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Linnaeus Tripe, Jambukeshvara Temple, Srirangam, 1858. British Library, Photo 950(8).  noc

In March 1857 Tripe’s dedication was rewarded by his appointment as Government Photographer of Madras, his principal task being to service the growing demand for reliable visual evidence of India’s architectural heritage—in his own words, to ‘secure before they disappear the objects in the Presidency that are interesting to the Antiquary, Sculptor, Mythologist, and historian.’ In succeeding decades photography was to become a standard tool of record for the work of the Archaeological Survey of India, but Tripe was to be the most distinguished of a small band of photographers who spearheaded these first—often faltering—initiatives.

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Linnaeus Tripe, Entrance to the hill fort at Ryakotta, 1857-58. British Library, Photo 951(3).  noc

In mid-December 1857 Tripe left Bangalore with four bullock-loads of supplies and equipment on a demanding four-and-a-half month tour through rough country that would take him as far south as the great temple city of Madurai, before heading north-east to reach Madras at the end of April 1858. During this great loop through the modern state of Tamil Nadu, he visited and photographed major temple sites (among them Srirangam and Thanjavur), as well as hill forts, palaces and the occasional striking landscape. Among the most remarkable of the 290 negatives from this journey—not least in terms of technical ingenuity—is the 19-foot long panorama, composed from 21 joined prints, recording the inscription running around the base of the Brihadeshvara Temple at Thanjavur.

By August 1858 he was once more at Bangalore, setting up his establishment to print up the results of his travels. With the government’s agreement and subsidy, these were made available in a published series of nine slime folio volumes devoted to specific locations, the pasted-in prints accompanied by descriptive letterpress by several different authors.

Tripe had envisaged a wider and more ambitious photographic project, which as well as architecture would encompass ‘customs, dress, occupations … arms, implements, and musical instruments’ and, where appropriate, ‘picturesque’ subjects. But his employment as Presidency Photographer coincided with the economies imposed in the aftermath of the Uprising of 1857–58. In mid-1859 Sir Charles Trevelyan, recently appointed Governor of Madras, shocked by the expense of such large-scale photographic production, ordered an immediate end to Tripe’s activities, declaring them ‘an article of high luxury which is unsuited to the present state of our finances.’ By the spring of his 1860 his establishment had been wound up and his staff and equipment dispersed.

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Linnaeus Tripe, Trimul Naik’s Choultry, side verandah from the west, Madurai, 1858. British Library, Photo 953/2(2).  noc

The abrupt termination of his appointment, coming at a moment he considered merely the start of his photographic ambitions in India, must have been a bitter blow to Tripe. In response he appears to have abandoned photography entirely, apart from a minor series of views taken in Burma in the early 1870s. But in a photographic career effectively lasting little more than five years, Tripe had created a body of photographs that is now recognised as among the finest architectural work produced in the course of the 19th century. His interpretation of architectural form, revealed in a characteristic use of long receding perspectives and a sometimes near-abstract balancing of light and shade, was accompanied by a rare mastery of the paper negative process. His care in printing has meant that many of his images survive in near pristine condition and allow the modern viewer to appreciate the full beauty of 19th-century photography. Tripe’s original negatives also survive at the National Media Museum in Bradford (two examples are shown in the present exhibition) and detailed accounts of Tripe’s activities in India can be found in the Madras Proceedings of the India Office Records at the British Library. All these sources have been assiduously mined in the production of the exhibition and in Roger Taylor and Crispin Branfoot’s handsomely printed catalogue, which together give full if belated recognition to the sophisticated artistry of a major figure in photographic history.

 

Further Reading

Roger Taylor and Crispin Branfoot, Captain Linnaeus Tripe. Photographer of India and Burma, 1852–1860 (Washington: 2014)

Henry Yule, A narrative of the mission sent by the Governor-General of India to the Court of Ava in 1855; with notices of the country, government and people (London: 1858)

Janet Dewan, The photographs of Linnaeus Tripe : a catalogue raisonné (Toronto: 2003)

John Falconer, India: pioneering photographers 1850–1900 (London: 2001)

The majority of Colesworthy Grant’s watercolours of Burma and Tripe’s photographs of Burma and India can be seen online at http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/apac/index.html.

John Falconer, Lead Curator, Visual Arts  ccownwork