Panel Abstracts

(Roundtable) Heritage and memory: the future of Scottish built culture in South Asia

Joint Chairs, Edward Hollis (Edinburgh) Kamalika Bose (Heritage Synergies, India)

Traces of Scots culture in South Asia are diverse, ranging from the melodies of Tagore songs, to railway engineering, the names of tea plantations and landmark buildings, or the Adam details found in nineteenth century Bengali architecture. Conversely, Scottish graveyards are filled with monuments to colonial adventurers, and our museums with the treasure they brought back with them.

They form, both, the legacy of an obsolete past, while being tightly woven into the fabric of current experience; and pose the same problems facing all heritage. In the context of both the south Asian and the Scottish built environment these are fraught with complexities from land laws to illegal encroachment, lack of funding or legislative frameworks, or rapid urbanisation and economic development.
But they raise other problems too, asking us to consider whose heritage they form. The war memorial or the graveyard, inscribed exclusively with British or Scots names, the clubhouse, bungalow, or chapel fallen into disuse or ruin, may be read as alien presences in the south Asian landscape: but they also, however compromised or transformed, form part of the fabric of south Asian urban experience.

The proposed round table,  will refrain from discussing the origins or intentionality of these traces, but explore them as heritage, asking what can, could, or should happen to them now. We propose to bring practitioners and scholars from the fields of heritage conservation in South Asia and Scotland to discuss the resonances from the past in the present, and their potential to help form resonant and useful futures.

Ideation and Delineation of Sacred Space: New Perspectives on Architecture and Ritual in South Asia and the Himalayas from the Medieval to the Modern Period

Chair, Jinah Kim (Harvard University) and Nicolas Morrissey (University of Georgia)

There can be little question that the articulation of sacred space in South Asia and the Himalayas developed amidst continuous, complex and highly nuanced processes of religious change for more than two millennia. Arguably, however, it was the medieval period (7-12th centuries C.E.) that witnessed not only the most exuberant proliferation of Indic religious architecture, but also the most substantial, and perhaps crucially, enduring developments in Indic religious thought and practice. Curiously, the nexus of relationships that prevailed between architectural developments and ritual practices during this pivotal period persists mired in either obscurity or misapprehension. As a consequence, both the longevity and tenor of influences exerted by the medieval world of ritual ideation and practice on architectural innovation in South Asia and the Himalayas remains a desideratum for not only historians of South Asian architecture, but for historians of South Asian Art and Religion as well. This panel seeks to employ a trans-sectarian methodological approach, considering critically the potential implications of a porous medieval ritual environment in which divisions between different regional religious communities may not have been overtly rigid – a cultic milieu that while possibly distinctive in origin to the medieval period, continued to inform architectural practices across sectarian borders as well as temporal and geographic limits. The papers of this panel constitute a discrete series of case studies oriented towards exploring ritual and material cultures in specific, localized Buddhist, Jain and Hindu architectural contexts that either first manifested in the medieval period or the salient features of which can be traced back to this critical epoch.


The Home and The World: The Domestic Interior in South Asia and Beyond

Chair, Heeryoon Shin (Vanderbilt University)

Studies of South Asian architecture have largely centred on public buildings and spaces – temples, mosques, tombs, gardens, forts and palaces – and their exterior as sites of identity formation and cross-cultural negotiations. Instead, this panel shifts the focus to the home and its interior. Domestic spaces have been considered as private, affective, and feminine, separate from the public, official, and masculine realm. Recent scholarship in gender studies, however, has increasingly challenged these binary divisions and underscored the home as a deeply politicized space with its meanings extending beyond its physical boundaries. This panel explores the active role of domestic interiors and their contents in shaping and performing political, religious, and social identities, transforming taste and consumption, and facilitating cultural exchange and production at local, regional, and global levels.


Strategic Embodiments

Chairs, Pamela N. Corey (SOAS University of London) and Ashley Thompson (SOAS University of London)

The notion of embodiment encompasses a wide range of approaches to understanding art and material culture: from symbolism to representation to incarnation. ‘Embodiment’ often comprises a process of  transfer – or mirroring – between the corporeal and the material, where the body is sited through its fragments or symbols. Versions of such a process can be discerned in ‘aniconic’ renderings of the Buddha such as the stupa, or in Hindu-Buddhist portraiture. We see it otherwise in works by such artists as Sheela Gowda (b. 1957, India), Pinaree Sanpitak (b. 1961, Thailand), Naiza Khan (b. 1968, Pakistan), and Titarubi (b. 1968, Indonesia), where abstracted and dispersed forms of evoking and articulating the body may indicate presence through absence. Other rich examples can be found in the art and visual culture of South and Southeast Asia, where the body, and its secular or sacred configurations, shapes understandings and experiences of landscape, temple sanctuaries, public space, installations, or the moving image. We are particularly interested in exploring how, in these contexts, embodiment reveals strategic impositions of authority – be it through codes or narratives of the state, of gender, or of class – as well as strategic modes of resistance. Topics may include religion, landscape, and territorial inscription; voice, ventriloquism, and material proxies; questions of performativity, identity, and subjectivity; embodied objects and modes of spectatorship; and cybernetic, affective, and digital materialities. The panel seeks to create a dialogue among topics and historical periods in order to revisit and potentially draw out new theorizations of embodiment engendered by case studies in South and Southeast Asia and their diasporas.


Visualizing Human-Animal Relations in the Indian Ocean World

Chairs, Tamara I. Sears (Rutgers University) and Sugata Ray (University of Berkeley)

The past 20 years has seen an escalation in the activities of the National River Linking Project, which promises to connect nearly 60 rivers across India (at a cost of $87 billion) in order to improve irrigation and make vast hectares of land newly cultivatable. Environmentalists have, however, challenged the project’s efficacy and decried its vast ecological costs, including irreparable damage to natural preserves that have long served as the last refuge for critically endangered animal species. Although the idea of linking rivers in order to manage the monsoon rains has origins in ancient times, the scale of modern anthropocenic technology has the potential to upset the precarious balance between human and nonhuman animals in fundamental ways.

Art history, we propose, has the ability to address such critical ecological challenges. We invite papers that engage human-animal relations in any period and region across an expansive Indian Ocean world. How have animals been visualized, thought about, and lived with in both metaphoric and real ways? As we face the sixth extinction, can a renewed attention to human-animal relations help art historians revise perceptions of the visual and architectural past? How have art historians, artists, and critics proactively responded to present-day crises? Papers might also explore notions of animality in Indic philosophy, examine how imagery has engaged scientific and environmental inquiries, and/or critically engage the ways in which perceptions of human-animal relations shaped colonial and postcolonial discourses on sexuality and ethics.


Cultural Heritage in the City and in the Museum: Art Historical and Conservation Analysis of Architectural Shrines and Ritual Objects in Museum Collections

Chair, Kimberly Masteller (The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art)

This panel presents studies of religious architecture and objects from within and outside the museum. The primary focus of study in several papers is the ghar derasar, (‘house temple’) is a fixture of Jain households. In pre-Modern Western India, elaborate, architectural domestic shrines were constructed for the homes of wealthy Jain families in urban centres like Ahmedabad, Patan, and Varodhara. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many examples of these shrines were removed from their original contexts and were acquired by museums in India, Europe, and the United States. Several presentations in this panel present the results of a collaborative study of home shrines by curators, conservators, and conservation scientists, at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Additional presenters will analyze architectural shrines and related ritual art in collections in Berlin and Mumbai and address efforts to protect the historical sites and structures that originally housed them. We intend to frame these case studies within larger conversations about context, urban transformation, cultural heritage, and museum display. This panel demonstrates the benefit of combining art historical and scientific analysis research in the study of works of art. This is multi-pronged particularly valuable in the interpretation of museum objects, displaced from their contexts, which have radically transformed since their creation.


Adorned: Studies in Dress and Textiles 

Chair, Siddhartha V. Shah (Curator of Indian and South Asian Art, Peabody Essex Museum)

The discipline of art history has famously privileged certain forms and media over others – namely painting, sculpture, and architecture –though scholarship today is actively reappraising objects and traditions that have long been undervalued and under-researched. Jewellery and textiles from South Asia have traversed oceans for thousands of years to be admired, collected and worn by a vast and diverse range of peoples from around the world. This panel aims to expand conversations and broaden the scope of scholarship on Indian textiles and dress by presenting new perspectives on fashion in native, colonial, and global contexts—ranging from the common and quotidian to the most opulent objects, and from the 17th century to the present. Avalon Fotheringham examines the ubiquitous (and oft-overlooked) printed handkerchief to position India at the nexus of a complex web of influence, innovation and global trade. Pika Ghosh attends to embroidered images of widows in two 19th-century kanthas (quilts of recycled, worn fabric, secured with running stitches and further embellished with coloured threads), reading the iconography as subversive commentaries by women on marriage and widowhood in colonial Bengal. Emily Hannam considers the multivalent function of precious jewels and fine lace in styling the imperial body of Queen Mary for her 1911 coronation. Offered as expressions of loyalty and devotion by the ladies of India and Ireland, these gifts also provoke a number of alternative interpretations. Divia Patel investigates several exceptional collections of saris at the V&A, highlighting particular moments of technological advancement and evolution of style in the twentieth century, while arguing for the necessity of acquiring twentieth- and twenty-first century dress in museum fashion and textile collections. With an eye to the politics, complexities and spectacle of self-fashioning, this panel attends to and offers new evidence for India’s enduring role in styling the world through dress and ornament.


Collecting South and Southeast Asia at the British Museum and beyond

Chair, Friederike Voigt (National Museum Scotland

This panel explores the current collecting history-based research that scholars are undertaking in relation to the South and Southeast Asian collections that are held at the British Museum, and the South Asian collectors represented at this institution. The papers range from an exploration of the motivation of colonial collectors, such as Stamford Raffles in Java and Hugh Nevill in Sri Lanka, to the movement of sculpture from Amaravati, and the role of South Asian collectors and donors in the formation and understanding of the museum’s collections.

Importantly, this work reveals not only what was offered to and acquired by the museum, but also how the original collections were formed; what the inherent intellectual biases represented therein are; and, therefore, what the implications are for contemporary displays of these collections, regions and collectors and how collecting practices shape narratives of art history.


Beyond the Imperial Frontier: Afghanistan in British Colonial Photography

Chair, Alka Patel (UC Irvine)

The panelists will present preliminary versions of their respective essays (see below) for an edited volume treating an album of photographs of the British occupation of Qandahar, southern Afghanistan, during the first Anglo-Afghan War of 1879-81. The album, part of the Getty Research Institute’s Special Collections (Spec. Coll. 2013.R.5),1 is a bound collection of 80 black-and-white photographs by Dr Benjamin Simpson (1831-1923), a British Army physician and well-known photographer in India. Simpson’s images are the only known historical photographs of Qandahar, a city at the crossroads connecting the Indic and Iranian cultural worlds from pre-history through the nineteenth century, and as such a pivotal point of contestation for British and Russian imperialisms in India and Central Asia (i.e. the Great Game).

The photographic corpus, focused on a pivotal region connecting the Indic and Iranian worlds, evokes multiple important lines of inquiry. The images are invaluable for specialties such as military and colonial history, regional technologies of photography, anthropology, and Safavid (1501-1731) and Mughal (1525-1858) architectural history, among others. Taking advantage of ACSAA’s rare gathering of South and Southeast Asia specialists, we will also stress photography’s quasi-official, colonial use for generating “knowledge” of the past and the present, and its simultaneous appeal as a commercial tool that both fed and created stereotypical understandings of colonial Others – pertinent investigations across the theater of colonial activity.


(Roundtable) Living Archives: Arts, Bodies, and Historiographies in South Asia 

Chairs, Sanjukta Sunderason (Leiden University), Aditi Chandra (University of California, Merced)

This roundtable addresses the archive, processes of archive-making, the usefulness and inescapable incompleteness of archives, and archival approaches in art history, art and writing practice, and historiography in South Asia. Taking the idea of the “archive” out of institutional sites and purely enunciatory realms of “discursive formation” we foreground the “being and becoming of archives.” Following what Stuart Hall calls “living archives,” we examine the “present, on-going, continuing, unfinished, and open-ended” nature of the archive that forges relations “among past, community, and identity” with the premise that archives are by nature heterogenous, mutable, and dispersed, rather than a systematic organisation of narratives, we ask: what constitutes an archive? What makes archives alive, tangible, or intangible? How do “living archives” store material? What constitutes material?

Furthermore: how do we as artists, historians, anthropologists, museum professionals, critics, and writers—capture the livingness and incomplete-ness of archives? In other words, how do we work with the mutating and palimpsestic nature of an archive that is lived in, transformative, and communicative. How do we write histories of living bodies, lived-in monuments, artists’ lives, and histories that continually displace? Through what crafts, alertness, inclusive dialoguing, and empathy must we sieve through what comes to us as “archive”? How do we disturb the given-ness of the past via the living-ness of the present? We welcome participants from across practices and disciplines to reflect on art (art and writing practice, bodies, museums, cities, monuments, films) and historiography via the terms of a “living archive.”


Funerary Architecture in South Asia

Chairs, Pushkar Sohoni (IISER Pune) and Mohit Manohar (Yale)

In the popular imagination, the Taj Mahal serves as a synecdoche for South Asian art, and this leads to the impression that funerary architecture is a well-documented subject in South Asian art history. But apart from detailed studies of the principal Mughal tombs—those at Lahore, Sikandra, Nizamuddin, and Agra—very little, beside preliminaries, is written about other important funerary structures, be it the tombs at Makli, which are now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, or the tombs and cenotaphs at Ahmadnagar, which are less well-known. This panel brings together new research on funerary architecture while also raising methodological and ideological questions that have broader relevance in the field, such as those pertaining to gender, religion, and the legacy of colonialism. Riyaz Latif studies two funerary structures in Ahmedabad built for royal Ahmadshahi women to understand the role gender played in shaping these buildings. Pushkar Sohoni uncovers the congruent funerary practices on both sides of the “Hindu-Muslim” divide in a group of monuments in Ahmadnagar and complicates the dialectical opposition often assumed between Hindu and Muslim funerary practices. Munazzah Akhtar and Rabia Qureshi examine how religious identity is constructed, both literally and figuratively, in the tombs at Makli. And Mohit Manohar shows why colonial officers altered the architecture of Sher Shah Suri’s tomb in Sasaram to reveal the information muddied by such “restorations”. All papers critically analyze the myth-building funerary structures necessarily participated in and present new evidence that reconfigures our understanding of these buildings and their related histories.


Word and Image in South Asia

Chair, Yuthika Sharma (University of Edinburgh)

To what extent is the written, archived, and the recorded necessary for the visual and experiential? As repositories of meaning and as historical record how do words and images propagate narratives or in turn, challenge their religious, philosophical and other deterministic structures? In this panel the various papers analyse dictionaries, biographies, court records, auction catalogues and maps to address the inter-relationships and elisions that underlie the creation of images in the early modern world.


Artistic directions in 19th century Calcutta

Chair, Bashabi Fraser (Scottish Centre for Tagore Studies)

Recent scholarship on nineteenth-century Calcutta has shaped our understanding of the city as the hub of intellectual and cultural innovations leading up to the phase of high artistic ferment of the Bengal School of Art. This panel highlights the less explored and finer grained aspects with a view towards examining lesser known and at times divergent practices that bore upon the climate of aesthetic change in this period. In studying the relationships and networks from this period, this panel will show how artists mediated the local and the global, and the extent to which they engaged with tradition or invented counter-expressions that were ultimately in dialogue with the changing face of artistic culture of the city and beyond.

Panel title: Materiality, Magicality, Temporality

Chairs, Rebecca Brown (John Hopkins University) and Atreyee Gupta (UC Berkeley)

Could secular works of art – not a talisman in the conventional sense of the word – have the power to cure or to afflict? What forms of viewership do such inventive talismans demand or anticipate? How do learning and knowledge production happen within and across varying groups of art cinema viewers, artists’ collectives, and multiply literate museum visitors? In turn, might a recourse to the linguistic and figural constellations of materiality, cosmology, magic, temporality, and animism enable a different discourse around modernity in South and Southeast Asia? Straddling multiple mediums (paintings, sculpture, and cinema) and multiple modes of practice (artistic practice, cinematic practice, and art writing), this panel questions the foundational presumptions of modern representational practices from a constellation of angles. Each paper displaces ostensibly foundational premises of the modern both by examining artists and practices heretofore overlooked or marginalized in its narratives and finding productive potential in embracing the otherworldly, the magical, and the illegible. Taking the animating potential of materiality and temporality seriously, the papers seek to trace the dispersed threads of the modern across the region and across the twentieth century. Doing so allows for an engagement with colonial and postcolonial ways of naming, knowing, and being in modernity, opening up twentieth century art and media studies to radically dissonant languages of enunciation.