Sweet Architecture At The V&A Museum Of Childhood

By Niti Acharya | 07 December 2007
a model of a building with a classical portico frontage

Patel's version of Sezincote House in Gloucestershire. Photo Niti Acharya

Niti Acharya explores all things sugar and spice at The Museum of Childhood.

Sculptor Jamini Patel explores the relationship between colonial trade and architecture and the way it has shaped our cityscapes in a new exhibition at the V&A Museum of Childhood.

Her early sculptures of buildings remaining from 18th century colonial Britain are highly detailed and thought-provoking. Built using the commodities which financed their construction and were the bedrock of colonial trade, the sculptures provoke a realisation of the riches empire trading brought and the servitude exploited in far-flung colonies.

The scramble for sugar, cocoa, tea, coffee, spices and tobacco during the sugar and spice era has led Jamini to recreate the Glaswegian Gallery of Modern Art, Sezincote House in Gloucestershire and John Pinney’s Georgian House in Bristol.

The Gallery of Modern Art was originally a mansion constructed by William Cunningham who made his riches from tobacco in America.

After the Royal Bank of Scotland purchased it, the basic shell of the house was converted to the Royal Exchange in 1827, the heartland of colonial commodities trading and then converted into a gallery in 1996 with all its colonial neo-classical grandeur and Corinthian pillars and cupola retained.

a brown model of a building with a domed spire on its roof

Patel uses the commodities which financed the constructions of iconic British Buildings to sculpt her replicas. Photo Niti Acharya

Sir Charles Cockerell commissioned his brother Samuel Pepys Cockerell to build him a residence in his homeland near Moreton-in-Marsh in Gloucestershire in the Indian manner – being a mixture of the English, Hindu and Mughal styles.

Sezincote House was the result, reminiscent of the iconic Brighton Pavilion which also employed these architectural influences. Sir Charles had been in the service of the East India Company, as had his brother Samuel, who was an architect of some standing and surveyor to the East India Company.

Though the exterior of Sezincote House is Indian, the interior is a tribute to a Greek classical revival. The original is finished in red-sandstone, features a copper-plated minaret and the fenestration is composed of a sequence of extra-large windows with an arch-shape at the top.

The three colonial buildings located around different areas of the country show how empire trade and wealth permeated across the country and are well juxpositioned against the Museum’s outreach work with the local community.

This brought the story up to date by looking at trade in a contemporary context and at London as a city built on finance and how the 21st century skyline is dominated by monumental, glittering spires built by developers and private investment.

a model of a building with large eastern style minarets made out of brightly colured paper

A child's response to the Sweet exhibition, displayed alongside the artists work in the foyer of Museum of Childhood. Photo Niti Acharya

One of the collaborative works between the sculptor and the Trinity Community Centre in Newham, is the creation of the Lloyds Building using a variety of consumer materials.

Lloyds built its insurance business on the flourishing sugar and spice trade and its current high tech money palace building was designed by Sir Richard Rogers between 1979 – 1984 and stands in Leadenhall Street, ironically in the same place where the head office of the East India Company once stood high, but was pulled down in 1862.

Though small in scale, this exhibition asks questions about the social and economic cost of commodities trading and how the landscape is still dominated by those who have know how to play the financial game to their benefit.

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
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