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Stamps of the British Empire

Text: Adrian Kreutz


As a teenager, the London-based artist Matthew Corbin Bishop Matthew embarked on an autodidact re-education about the history and culture of the Middle East. Later, when he studied art, he was looking for ways to combine his artistic work with his extensive knowledge of Middle Eastern geopolitics. Matthew had a fantastic idea: to recreate stamps from countries under colonial rule, form the height of the British Empire in the 1900s to its eventual disbandment in the 1960s. That was the start of his ongoing art-project ‘The Making of the Modern World’, for which Matthew has meticulously recreated more than 500 stamps as oil paintings.

For this project, Matthew has collected some 8.000 stamps from Iraq, Palestine, Egypt, Marocco, Jordan, Yemen, the Emirates, and beyond. They visualise and remind us of British colonial rule and the Ottoman Empire. They depict ancient and contemporary monuments, objects of trade, mosques, calligraphy, and as Matthew tells me, “a lot of Palm trees”. 

What struck me was the exquisite craftsmanship that has goes into those artworks. Matthew starts by stretching the canvas on to individually sized, handmade frames. He later applies layers of gesso, oil, acrylic, ink transfer and beeswax to create an exact copy of the original stamp. The beeswax, he tells me, is supposed to recreate the shiny effect of stamp ink. 

Adrian Kreutz
olitical Theorist and writer. Based in London, Adrian teaches philosophy and politics at the University of Oxford, UK . 

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