• Queering Nawabi Lucknow: Architecture and the Colonial Archive
    Sonal Mithal & Arul Paul

Unknown, “Wajid Ali Shah of Awadh at the Qaisar Bagh; India,” ca. 1850–56. Opaque watercolor and gold on paper. 27.4 x 37.5 in. Courtesy Kenneth X and Joyce Robbins Collection

The project undertakes a queer reading of the colonial texts on history and architecture of the nawabs in Lucknow, India. The nawabs—Asaf-ud-Daula, Nasir-ud-Din Haider, and Wajid Ali Shah—were already actively pursuing and propagating a parallel queer culture, often in conflict with the then dominant colonial enterprise. The East India Company targeted the nawabs’ race, gender, sexuality, physical appearance, cultural pursuits and architectural expression—to refute the nawabs’ efficacy as political rulers—gendering the superiority and credibility of a political leader. The absence of nawabi architecture from the mainstream architectural history discourse is evidence that the intentional colonial obliteration has sustained in contemporary architectural studies. This project describes nawabi architecture as queer, establishing it as a significant marker of the architectural history of the subcontinent.

Sonal Mithal is an architect, artist, and educator. She holds a doctorate from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, MArch from SPA Delhi; and BArch from Lucknow University. She is cofounder of research and conservation studio, People for Heritage Concern; and teaches at CEPT University, India. Her work transects architecture, landscape, queer studies, history, and heritage—focusing on processes and agencies of ecological survival, contingencies of identity and representation, and emergent intersectionality in shaping of the built environment. She is co-consultant for restoration of Surat Castle, and urban revitalization projects commissioned by city municipal corporations. She has published Government Officer Housing Precincts in Urban Lucknow (Bloomsbury, 2020), Lucknow Unrestrained: Palimpsest of Incongruous Possibilities (Sage, 2021); exhibited Matter in the Future Continuous (Art/NaturSci Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2019),  The Sentient Ruins (India Pavilion, London Design Biennale 2021), Lucknow Unrestrained (Srishti School of Art and Design, 2019).

Arul Paul is an architect and educator; he currently serves as an associate professor at the Nitte Institute of Architecture, Mangalore, India, where his research lies in the intersection between architecture, queer theory, and media studies. Paul holds a MArch in history, theory, criticism, and urban design from CEPT University, Ahmedabad and a BArch from Anna University, Chennai. He uses the lens of history and theory to critically examine pedagogy as it evolves in response to new advances and challenges, and to contribute to academia, research, writing, and practice. He has published Lucknow Unrestrained: Palimpsest of Incongruous Possibilities (Sage, 2021), Queering Academia (Avani, 2021), and exhibited Lucknow Unrestrained (Srishti, 2019). He has copresented “Queering Colonial Archives–Queer Architecture of Nawabi Lucknow” (Society of Architectural Historians, 2021). He is also an ardent campaigner for social justice and equality, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.