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This paper explores the agency of gold in South Asia as an ambiguous means of exchange and delightful control. As Taussig has suggested, gold can be an allegory for modernity qua labour in the miasmic mines of South American. If he explores the ‘metaphorical’ horrors of how exploitation is championed in Colombia and celebrated in the Museo del Oro, my examination of gold turns to its hidden status in statues in India and its mirror like quality in the shamsa. The shamsa is a sun bursting light form of geometric exactitude celebrated by the monarchs Akbar, Jahangir and ShahJahan. The sources of this form of gold speak to the now contested, derelict mines of Hutti. What does it mean to think of gold as celestial? Especially in the wake of material studies concerned with vibrant materiality? Is gold still to be colonized? Are there limits to decolonial thought?
Dr Natasha Eaton is Reader in the History of Art at UCL. She is a long serving editor of Third Text and the author of three monographs – Mimesis across empires: Artworks and networks in India, 1765-1860 (Duke University Press, 2013), Colour, Art and Empire: Visual culture and the nomadism of representation (I.B.Tauris, 2013) and Travel, Art and Collecting in South Asia: Vertiginous exchange (Routledge, 2021). She is currently at work on a special issue of Third Text with Manuela Ciotti on global collecting and modernity and on a monograph concerned with the materialities of empire provisionally titled The Unconditional Image: Art and labour in South Asia.