In my collection of 19th century English transferware pottery which ranges in date from the 1840’s to the 1890’s there are many which depict Chinese or Japanese people. Often Chinese and Japanese motifs were confused and conflated in the decorative arts of the West, so one cannot definitively say who these objects are actually representing. Yet, whoever is being represented, what does it mean when I, an Other, (albeit fairly privileged as a white Western male) collects representations of Asian people from a moment in history where white hegemony over the world reigned supreme.
It is a troubling question that goes beyond my love for the aesthetics of these objects and their aura of history, of use, of the people who bought them originally and handled them in their daily lives. What was their relationship to these objects in a time of English empire and imperialism? How did they understand these objects and the depiction of the Other in relation to their own subjecthood? How do I understand my desire for these objects in relation to my own queer subjecthood? Am I collecting as Europe and especially Great Britain collected peoples and territories around the world? It is an important question to keep in mind for me as these objects adorn my domestic space.
Sado by Brownfield & Sons circa 1879-1881 depicting in a cartouche a group of angry Asian children. How does the West fetishize the children of the other?
Small oval plate in the Jeddo pattern by Brown Westhead-Moore & Co., circa 1872-1884. This pattern is interesting as it does not seem to be a romanticized depiction of the East, but more anthropological. In the rim cartouches there is a man carrying water buckets and an old man walking away with a cane with a dog. The other cartouches depict animals and landscape views.
Soup plate in the Jeddo pattern by Brown Westhead-Moore, circa 1872-1884. In one of the rim cartouches a man is standing in the water fishing. In another a figure is carrying an intricate basket on his/her back. Again the feel here is more anthropological than a romantic version of Asia. The other cartouches depict mainly birds with one cartouche of a landscape with architecture.