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Conference fee: £50 (full), £25 (students) - includes lunch and tea/coffee
Deadline: Tuesday 1 April 2014
To download the conference poster, click here.
Dr Annamaria Motrescu-Mayes (Centre of South Asian Studies, University of Cambridge)
Professor Marcus Banks (Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford)
The ‘Visual anthropology and contemporary South Asian history conference’ aims to offer historians, anthropologists and postgraduate history students a unique opportunity to share and strengthen their scholarship within a cross-disciplinary research network concerned with the crucial relevance of applying theories of visual anthropology to the study of contemporary South Asian history. This conference is the result of the positive feedback and detailed suggestions received during the ‘Exploring modern South Asian history with visual research methods’ pre-conference seminar series organised in February-March 2013 by the Centre of South Asian Studies (CSAS) in collaboration with the CRASSH and the Royal Anthropological Institute, and led by historians, anthropologists and postgraduate students (podcasts available here). Accordingly, this conference has two objectives. First, it will examine the ways in which scholarship in the field of visual anthropology informs historiographical methodologies pertinent to re-interpreting, producing, distributing, and repatriating visual records of South Asian history. Second, it will create a strategically innovative research and practice-based framework for postgraduate history students at the University of Cambridge interested in experimenting with, and advancing new cross-methodological approaches. These objectives will be achieved by securing the participation of some of the key scholars in the fields of visual anthropology and South Asian history, and by organising a special pre-conference workshops which will introduce the theme of the conference and help postgraduate history students explore new ways in using visual research methods.
Keynote addresses will be delivered by Professor David MacDougall (Australian National University) and by Professor Elizabeth Edwards (Director of Photographic History Research Centre at De Montfort University). Professor Alan Macfarlane (University of Cambridge) will present a special contribution. Other invited speakers include Professor Christiane Brosius (Heidelberg University), Professor Malavika Karlekar (Centre for Women’s Development Studies, New Delhi), Dr Lotte Hoek (University of Edinburgh), Dr Zoe Headley (Institut Français de Pondichery), Dr Vron Ware (Open University) and Dr Mandy Rose (UWE).
The conference will host a special session titled ‘Tamil Societies and Visibility' in association with the Fondation Maison Science de l’Homme, Paris, and Centre of South Asian Studies, Cambridge. Speakers include Dr Cucciniello, Dr Sujit Sivasundaram, Dr Annamaria Motrescu-Mayes.
The pre-conference workshop will be dedicated to ‘Writing South Asian history with visual research methods’. Prof. Marcus Banks and Dr Motrescu-Mayes will advise on the methodology used by ten postgraduate history students who will work with unique visual records selected from the collections held by the CSAS. The aim of this workshop is to introduce history students to using theories of visual anthropology to the study of contemporary South Asian history. The research findings and short visual essays produced by the students during the workshop will be subsequently presented and discussed during a three-hour special conference session chaire by Prof. Banks. Also, CRASSH Digital Humanities network will participate in designing and developing the pre-conference postgraduate student workshop with a view to expand and integrate similar practice-based learning strategies within digital humanities programs. As a result, building on the valuable on-going collaboration between CRASSH and CSAS, ‘Visual anthropology and contemporary South Asian history’ conference will continue to advance and strengthen the dynamic, international and cross-disciplinary research network formed by scholars of historical and visual anthropological studies of South Asia.'
Supported by the Centre for Research in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (CRASSH), the Smuts Memorial Fund, the Centre of South Asian Studies (University of Cambridge), the Fondation Maison Science de l’Homme, Paris and the Thriplow Charitable Trust.
Accommodation for speakers selected through the call for papers and non-paper giving delegates
We are unable to arrange or book accommodation, however, the following websites may be of help.
Image: Tymms Collection © Royal Commonwealth Society Collections
Administrative assistance: email@example.com
DAY 1 - 4th April
Marcus Banks (University of Oxford) and Annamaria Motrescu-Mayes (University of Cambridge)
Chair: Tom Simpson (University of Cambridge)
Lunch (incl. screening Hilda at Darjeeling, dir. V. Ware and M. Rose, 1988)
Chair: Paolo Favero (Musée du quai Branly, Paris)
Chair: Lotte Hoek (University of Edinburgh)
DAY 2 - 5th April
Chair: Zoé Headley (IFP-CNRS, Pondichéry)
SPECIAL SESSION (5): Tamil Societies and Visibility
Chair: Marcus Banks (University of Oxford)
|14.15 - 15.15||
SPECIAL SESSION (6)
Chair: Annamaria Motrescu-Mayes (University of Cambridge)
Chair: Arjun Shankar (University of Pennsylvania):
Marcus Banks (University of Oxford)
Josefine Baark (University of Cambridge): Decorum: Courtly Posturing in the Visual Economy of Indo-Danish Diplomacy
In this paper, I wish to launch a much-needed investigation of the historical, academic, and material underpinnings of the study of early modern Indo-Danish diplomatic and mercantile exchange. Using the figural representations of courtly negotiation between European emissaries and the South Indian court of Thanjavur in 1688 alongside primary sources from Danish and Indian archives, I will revise and expand the historiography of the encounter. Thus far, scholarship looking at this period of burgeoning globalisation of economy and trade, has posited Denmark as the main cultural mediator with regard to the repercussions on material culture. Moreover, none of these studies have been accompanied by a sustained critical engagement with both the “foreign” cultures, leading to dramatic decontextualisations and continued cultural distances – as evidenced by contemporary historical analyses, as well as the display of imported goods in museums.
Conversely, I wish to suggest that Danish trade from Tranquebar, a South Indian costal village rented as a trade port by the Danish East India Company from the Nayaka King of Thanjavur in 1620, represents a unique example that posits several complex problems with regard to the dominating histories of early modern cultural exchange. By examining the sculptural program of the Durbar Hall at the Thanjavur Palace, I wish to destabilize the view that the cross-cultural meeting influenced only Danish material culture. Trade, royalty and political, visual acumen were, I shall argue, intrinsically linked. Economic, diplomatic exchange in South India, during a period of political upheaval, created a space where the aesthetics of exotic figures gave local court artists malleable tools with which to fantastically re-create their image of court culture. Hence, there is a pressing need to revise the simplistic dynamics so far considered. Ultimately, my theoretical approach will challenge Danish attitudes to the question of cross- cultural influence and demonstrate how revisiting the visual, material evidence of multi-cultural encounters can reappraise the values underpinning their writing and display.
Arjun Shankar (University of Pennsylvania): Developing a Critical Visual Pedagogy: Notes from A Participatory Film Project in rural Karnataka, India
This paper analyzes the images associated with a development discourse termed the “End of Poverty”. In the first half, I explain how the “End of Poverty” narrative reinforces a link between economic impoverishment and community impoverishment more generally. This particular discourse sees the increase in malnutrition, human subjugation, and illiteracy as a byproduct of the same neoliberal values espoused by supranational organizations like the IMF and the World Bank and argues that poverty alleviation should be the goal of development interventions. Images associated with the End of Poverty narrative portray communities as hopeless, powerless, and one-dimensionally, creating the rationale for intervention and sustaining a circuit of “poverty capital” (Roy, 2010). To understand how the visual works, I engage with the image’s tendency toward an “illusion of authenticity”. The image’s dangers stem from its believability and the concomitant affects that it produces in the viewer. In the second half I focus on audiovisual strategies that complicate and challenge the “End of Poverty” narrative. These strategies develop out of a critical viewing practice – an appraisal of who, how, and why images are produced – and reveal the link between authenticity, representation, and our “ways of seeing” marginalized communities. Using fieldwork data collected with participation from students at Kadajakasandra school, a school in a village community in Karnataka, India about 50km south of Bangalore, I argue that these critically informed visual strategies can have impacts on how development agencies - INGOs and national NGOs in particular - intervene. I end with a specific mention of visual pedagogy: what strategies should we employ when we present our visual work to a wider (non-) academic public?
Garima Dhabhai (Jawaharlal Nehru University): Visible Histories, Invisible Contestations: The Story of Pink in the ‘Pink City’
The city of Jaipur was built in the 18th century by Sawai Jai Singh II, based on presumably ‘scientific’ principles of planning, and since then has been a major visual attraction for the travelers and residents alike. Jaipur has been associated with certain canonical and stock images which seek to dominate the visual experience of the city. It is famously known as the ‘pink city’, owing to the distinct color scheme of the built structures within the walled city, which emerged at a specific juncture in the city’s history. However, mired in the global circuits of heritage and tourism industry, this ‘pink’ color has been authenticated as the legitimate image of Jaipur. The ‘pink’ on the walls of old Jaipur has journeyed through myriad contestations and contentions on its original shade; thus representing the tumultuous terrain of power negotiations between various stakeholders. The myths and histories of ‘pink’ in Jaipur also throw light on the practices of princely sovereignty in times of British paramountcy, reflected in regimes of aesthetic fashioning of spaces and production of particular subjectivities.
The ‘pink’ has, in the contemporary context, become a marker of consumption patterns and production apparatus, ensconcing the city within global economic network. The uniqueness of Jaipur seen through this color has found its way into several enterprises, such as apparel brands, advertising creations, and nomenclatures of new establishments or popular songs. The presence of ‘pink’ in its several hues within the walled city of Jaipur exhibits a vision of homogeneity and deviances, thriving on invisible landscapes of public memory, state power and modern economic concerns. The proposed paper would dwell into the materiality of ‘pink’ in Jaipur, in the contemporary period, to revisit the numerous histories of its existence, in the process, producing Jaipur as a tangible space and an experiential image. A visual ethnography of older precincts of Jaipur would highlight the invisible transactions of power which produce a vocabulary of sights.
Alan MacFarlane (University of Cambridge): Film and its use in South Asian anthropology: past and future
The four obstacles which prevented the optimum use of film in the past: the cameras, the editors, the distributors and the difficulty of combining film with texts. Early filming in the 1950’s by C. von Fürer-Haimendorf; my first filming in a Himalayan village in Nepal 1968-1987; the video revolution (Video 8 then Hi-8) and some of its consequences; finding a theme and subject; filming and editing in the 1990’s – what films are most effective; showing films to the subjects; virtual reality days in teaching; ‘how fieldwork is done’ films; long interviews and their value (both of subjects in the field and anthropologists); the advent of digital film and its consequences; potentials of new editing programs and data storage devices; being in control of all the processes; the arrival of the web and its consequences (Youtube, websites etc); combining ideas and sensations – the tension between text and film; the ethics of filming; some tips on what I have found best in filming; the current project to create a film archive of 50 years in a Himalayan village and how it is only now possible; possible future developments in China and elsewhere.
Zoé Headley (IFP-CNRS, Pondichéry): Representing Self and Family. Preserving Early Tamil Studio Portraiture
Though there is a growing body of research on photography in India over the last 20 years, by and large, the history and productions of commercial photo studio has been a neglected field of study and this oversight is near complete concerning South India. In this paper, I will present a project in-the-making-
concerned with the building of a digital archive of early Tamil studio photography. The aim of the project is to document and preserve Tamil studio photography, and therefore family portraiture, since its appearance in the Madras Presidency in the mid-late 19th century up until the introduction of mechanised developing and printing. I will detail the feasibility of creating a digital archive of Tamil photographic portraiture, its possible scope and extent. The proposed archive could provide unique data to explore a number of socio-cultural issues such as the consequences, the ways in which the introduction of photo portraits in the homes have affected vernacular notions of individuality and dual dimension of personhood (akam / puram), their impact on representations of marriage, the uses of family portraits as hybrid photo-objects subject to daily domestic rituals, the transformation of regional and sectarian dress codes.
Aaron Bryant (Smithsonian Institution): Democracy beyond the borders: Martin Luther King Jr., his trip to India and the 1968 Poor People’s campaign
In 1959, Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife Coretta Scott launched a five-week tour of India after receiving an invitation from India’s Jawaharlal Nehru. The visit had a profound effect on King’s philosophies regarding nonviolent protests as he developed strategies for civil rights in the United States (U.S.). King’s trip to India informed his political resistance until his final and most ambitious movement in 1968, the Poor People’s Campaign. The proposed presentation will present a visual ethnography of photographs from King’s visit to India and his final crusade, the Poor People’s Campaign. In reading images as visual evidence and text, this presentation will explore the influence India’s Independence Movement had on the U.S. Civil Rights Movement to demonstrate how India’s struggle for democracy reached beyond the borders of Asia and Europe. In an address on his final night in Asia, King stated, ‘‘since being in India, I am more convinced than ever before that the method of nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for justice and human dignity.” Throughout his writings and speeches, the civil rights leader recognized the struggles in South Asia as critical to protests for social equity in the U.S., and he saw both movements as part of a global continuum for democracy. As the Civil Rights Movement evolved into a human rights crusade, King’s experiences in South Asia would be an important evolutionary phase in what he hoped would be a broader struggle for global justice. Through analyzing photographs, speeches, and archival documents, the proposed paper will show how the Independence Movement in India informed civil rights in the U.S. and contemporary movements for human rights around the world.
Ronie Parciack (Tel Aviv University): New Medium, New Historiography: Re-narrating Islamic History in India through VCDs Communal tensions between Hindus and Muslims in modern India exacerbated dramatically in the 19th and 20th centuries. The crystallization of the powerful model of Hindu nationhood (Hindutva) and the rise of the Hindu right were fueled by historically constructed notions of Self and Other according to which the history of Indian Islam is a tale of violent invasions of militant foreigners. This narrative constituted Indian Muslims as genealogically and culturally others as regards the Indian nation-state. The Hindu right did not only constitute Indian Muslims along pivots of otherness; in addition the territory of the India was constructed as a divinized essence (Goddess Mother India), and hence an object of devotion for the Hindu citizen/devotee. This also served to exclude Muslims from the nation since participating in this construct could be perceived as violating the orthodox tenet of Tawheed, which states that Muslims cannot worship any other but Allah. Furthermore, positioning oneself as a devotee of the Indian nation-state could be considered a rejection of the socio-political ideal of the Islamic Ummah (Brosius 2005: 177) centered around the authoritative hub of the Arabian Peninsula. However, a decade-old medium of popular VCDs (video compact discs), an under-regulated medium produced and sold at extremely low cost, has enabled new Muslim voices to emerge in the Indian mediascape and has led to the articulation of widespread alternatives to the established narratives prevalent in the Hindutva-dominated mainstream media. VCDs targeting the Muslim niche market have become a lively arena for the re-writing of the history of Indian Islam from Muslim perspectives. This presentation addresses the popular historiography conveyed by Muslim public speakers and the visual images embedded in Indian VCDs that shape the history of Islam in India as a history of devotion, thereby challenging both Hindutva nationalism and scriptural Islam.
Christiane Brosius (Universität Heidelberg): Let’s (not) talk about Love: approaching the visual repertoire of Valentine’s Day in Delhi
The focus of this talk are greeting cards made in India, for the marketing and celebration of Valentine’s Day. My interest in these cards is manifold: they are a vibrant source of information about new social relations, conspicuous consumption and emotional ‘languages’, they help shaping a new imaginary of choice and mobility, of happiness and sexuality, or place and lifestyle. From this wide array of themes, some of the key themes and images that surfaced with Archies cards over the past decade or more shall be presented; questions of classification shall be addressed. Moreover, the talk will touch upon the production context of the cards, particularly the genesis of Archies Ltd. and their position within a wider realm of the emerging consumer culture in urban India since the 1990s. Of further relevance shall be the question of circulation and context: where are the boundaries of this material gift culture, how can we trace them through the cards, and where are the challenges and limits thereof? How can we make sense of a visual repertoire that has such a rhizomatic structure, and is tied to so many fields of signification, and (violence-loaded) conflict?
Malavika Karlekar (CWSD, Delhi): Private visual archives: the albums of Nony Singh and Mary Thomas
I look at the family album as the site of consumption (Marcus Banks), arguing that like the early photo studio, the album could be an object of fantasy - as well as the creator of fantasy. On the other hand, it could be a haphazard recording of its owners past. This is certainly the case with the present album, that of Mary Thomas in the mid 1930s, when she was training to be a doctor. Mary’s dog-eared album is primary, unfiltered information, its images providing insights into the life of Mary and her younger siblings, Pauline and Gilmore. They were Eurasians, of mixed blood, born to George, an Indian Christian and Patricia, a Scotswoman.
This cultural melding is reflected in Mary’s photograph album. About half is occupied with visual documentaries on treks and holidays – where the focus is on phases of the journey rather than on the people. In India, this protocol of negating oneself in what I call `iconic spaces photography’ became quite fashionable among those with little Brownies, particularly in the period 1930s-1950s. The other half is an interesting mélange of friends and visiting relatives, their dress and body language significant markers in an understanding of the family history of a tiny segment of Indian society.
Vron Ware (Open University) & Mandy Rose (University of the West of England): Hilda at Darjeeling 1988: (convening) a dialogue about white women and British Empire
The film focuses on five English women who lived in India in the period up to and immediately following Independence. Partly provoked by the success of high-budget films like ‘A Passage to India’ and ‘Heat and Dust’, produced in the early 1980s, its aim was both to interrogate and to complicate the role of white women in sustaining colonial rule. This presentation will revisit the aims and methods of the project. In particular it will address the value of oral memory in reflecting on the position of white women living under the British Raj, and the use of amateur film clips to evoke the everyday conditions of a society rigidly structured along lines of gender, class and race.
David MacDougall (Australian National University): Co-Presence in Visual Research
In anthropological and historical research it is important for scholars to keep in mind not only the individual strands that can be traced through their material but also the co-existence of multiple strands within it. These “co-presences” are a particular feature of visual documents and should also be taken into account by researchers who actively use film and video as tools of research. In ethnographic filmmaking they play an important part in differentiating visual from written anthropology, across a wide range of camera styles. At the same time they raise important intellectual questions for the discipline in determining what constitutes academic knowledge.
Lotte Hoek (University of Edinburgh): Films from Nowhere: East Pakistani Urdu Cinema and the Visual Culture of a Vanished State
The traces of East Pakistan have been carefully erased from the public sphere of contemporary Bangladesh. Very little reminds of the short-lived state of Pakistan that included its eastern wing. Its rise and fall has been plentifully mapped in studies that celebrate the inevitable emergence of Bangladesh from the doomed Pakistan experiment. But the everyday experience of East Pakistan, beyond the political struggle has been much less attended to. Yet, here and there fragments and glimpses do remain that open up a perspective on East Pakistan that is not over-determined by the teleology of Bangladesh’ emergence. The Urdu cinema made in East Pakistan is one such site from which a perspective on the everyday pleasures, aspirations and energies of East Pakistan may be mapped. In this paper, I map the space of Urdu cinema made and watched in East Pakistan. I ask what sort of insight onto East Pakistan can be developed through its cinematic heritage and to what extent visual culture may allow an archaeology of failed social experiments and states that are no more.
Souvik Naha (ETH Zurich): Drawn into Play: Sport Cartoons as Political Critique in India, 1960-1980
The mass media acts as a major instrument in the production and circulation of political knowledge. Editorial and pocket cartoons, as an integral part of the media, play an important role in this process from within the condensed space that they occupy. Cartoons communicate with the audience through appealing, pithy narratives and provide them with the cartoonist’s self-contained approach to contemporary social events. Hence, cartoons may be constructed as balanced, value-neutral social commentary or can be explicitly, purportedly personal with little attention to mainstream interpretations of the incident depicted. Scholars of media discourse consider cartoon as an evocative, persuasive device used for reflecting and moulding opinion on important public interest issues. My paper examines the use of sporting events and metaphors as critique in political cartoons published between 1960 and 1980, a turbulent period in Indian history abounding in wars and movements, culminating in the Emergency. Numerous crises and public disaffection with inefficient, corrupt politicians following the decades of the country’s independence in 1947, and the popularity of sports in the country provided cartoonists with an armory with which to assault the political establishment. The recurrence of sport-themed political cartoons in newspapers suggests that it was a popular trope and could be used to communicate with a more diverse audience than traditional political reporting would reach. The paper focuses on how cartoonists created a visual vocabulary for effective use of allusion, bearing in mind the audience’s ability to register cultural references. It ponders the ways in which political messages were delivered though familiar visual imagery. By doing so, the paper analyses the importance of sport as a medium to crystallise public opinion and also sport’s emergence as a culture.
Mani Shekhar Singh (Jindal Global Law School): Painterly Tales of Violence and Justice in Maithil (India) Art
In this presentation, I seek to examine the ways of picturing justice in the visual language deployed by artists from Mithila region of India. Although traditionally a domestic-ritual art form, since the late 1960s, Maithil artists have also painted themes related to dowry deaths, the war on terror, communal violence, murder and corruption. These pictorial renderings undoubtedly demonstrate an engagement with issues of violence, law and justice. However, the existing literature on the subject has seldom scrutinised such visual representations, which belong to the “folk” or vernacular cultural expressions. Taking my examples from works of young women painters, I will explore how justice is visualised in their artworks, especially foregrounding issues related to dowry violence. In many ways, for these young painters, the motivation and urgency to depict themes related to dowry (and more generally violence against women) is intimately tied up with their biographies and their life-worlds. The paintings narrate their painterly tales of violence and justice by temporalizing the different sections of the picture field in what are sometimes extremely complex and sophisticated techniques. Even though the “micro-themes” in these paintings mostly derive from real life stories and events, they are often placed within a mixture of other time frames. In the process constructing a sort of montage that has the potentiality of generating a semantic charge, which neither section of the image-field taken in isolation possesses. Taking recourse to imagery from Hindu mythology and ritual iconography these paintings create alternative formulations around motifs and icons to mount a powerful critique of the violence produced, and indeed celebrated in the name of tradition.
SPECIAL SESSION (5): Tamil Societies and Visibility
Sujit Sivasundaram (University of Cambridge): The port of Colombo c. 1900 and from the visual to the invisible
This paper interrogates the high imperialism of Europe, tied to the information revolution of steamship- lines, telegraphs and railroads in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, by focusing on the island of Sri Lanka. On the island, Tamil labourers were critical to the function of the plantation economy and arrived in great numbers at the port of Colombo, from which they were transferred to the highland plantations. In order to get to how connectivity was made by the British Empire of this period, the paper teases apart a particular moment in this journey, the transition from ship to shore and from shore to ship at Colombo, nicknamed ‘The Clapham Junction of the East’, because it was such a popular point of transit for imperial trade, tourism and migration. Visual instruction and consumption was central to the production of connectivity across land and sea and the efficiency of imperialism, in the imagining of lines of passage. Yet this visual repertoire which spread so easily over so many genres – including postcards, the periodical press and intellectual thought – hid the arriving Tamil labourers from view, or transformed their bodies into the purpose of crude entertainment. If Colombo and its infrastructural development was celebrated widely in visual terms – yet, that density of visual reportage only takes us so far in understanding the conditions of the ‘Indian Tamils’ of Sri Lanka. Methodologically, the paper also intervenes in the writing of world histories, by suggesting that the visual life of empire and especially its concern with lines of passage is still with us, together with its gaps and forgettings.
Raffaella Cuccinello (Université de Paris-Sorbonne): Taking the risk of being visible: some clinical issues about family therapy with Tamil refugees
Tamils families having gone through the process of migration face many obstacles in the transmission of their life’s story to their children. In particular during their teens, children growing up in the host country call into question their ties with their parents born elsewhere. Heirs to a lineage interrupted by exile and at the same time first members of a new lineage within their country of birth, these teenagers have to create for themselves a multi-dimensional identity reflecting the different worlds they are confronted with. The distress they may experience in the process compels their family to redefine its relationship with the homeland culture. What does it mean to be a Tamil in a french environment ? What about assuming the visible marks of an unshared origin ? In this paper, based on a clinical case report, I shall discuss the therapeutic issues at stake in the systemic-cultural approach of my work with Tamils migrant families, in particular the methodological necessity to create and co-construct an intermediate space where multiple representations of reality and thought processes can and must coexist in order to offer the chance of assuming the risk of a visible identity.
Annamaria Motrescu-Mayes (University of Cambridge): Amateur media, open-ended memory, and visual constructions of Tamil identities
Is amateur media redefining memory studies across issues of visual ‘immediacy’, re-imagined collective memory, and almost ubiquitous, instant online access to images of the Self-as-Nation? This paper will address such questions by considering several examples of amateur media made in the last year of the Sri Lankan civil war (2009), from anonymous recordings of refugees and military attacks on civilians to mobile phone ‘trophy’ films of war casualties. The aim of this analysis is to assess how theoretical debates in visual anthropology help address questions of historical authenticity, political activism and constructions of Tamil identities across first-person visual narratives. While the study of amateur media-making allows us to explore new orders of historical, national and ethnic visibility, particular amateur recordings, such as videos or mobile phone films of the Sri Lankan civil war, reveal agonizing instances of a mutable, open-ended collective memory – the new social media grand narrative of a plural, synchronous storytelling that defines recent Tamil history. Borrowing from Julia Kristeva’s theory of the abject as anchored in the ‘eruption of the Real’ into everyday life, and relying on an anthropological forensic analysis of selected amateur media, this paper will propose that new critical perspectives on representations of war trauma and of collective memory are essential to understanding contemporary Tamil identities within the continuous present tense of digital, global communities.
Elizabeth Edwards (De Montfort University): Photographs and the Business of ‘Doing History’
This paper takes a step back from the specifics of the visual study of south Asia to consider what how photographs to intersect with the commonplaces of historical apparatus, – the nature of event, happening, occurrence, the nature of context, narrative, temporal distance, the spatialisation of time, fragmentation, and the concept of ‘presence’. What is the effect of photographs, how do they destabilise these deep held categories and assumptions of historical practice in the broadest sense? How can thinking through photographs “stretch the habits of the discipline”? Visceral yet discursive, instinctive yet interpretative, sensuous yet cognitive, voluptuous yet analytical (Thomas 2009), I argue the photographs become history’s ‘Other’ while simultaneously disturbing its core assumptions.
Tom Simpson (University of Cambridge): A Fragmented Gaze: Depictions of frontier tribes and the beginnings of colonial anthropology
The monumental The People of India (1868-75), featuring 340 lavishly reproduced photographs including many of ‘frontier tribes’ from north-eastern and north-western British India, may seem to typify post-Rebellion colonial governance. Much recent scholarship argues that the Crown colonial state rigidly categorised colonised groups, and that such fixity was achieved largely through technologies of visual representation, especially the camera. The editors of The People of India, however, were altogether less confident: ‘The photographs were produced without any definite plan, according to local and personal circumstances, by different officers.’ The work, they wrote, ‘make[s] no claim to scientific research or philosophic investigation.’Similar uncertainties were rife in colonial depictions of South Asian frontier peoples during the mid- to late nineteenth century. In this paper, I contend that such representations were marked more by ongoing anxiety and flux than by the distillation of the ‘singularly resolute optic’ that James C. Scott has argued is constitutive of the modern state. I begin by examining the wide variety of ethnographic images during the period up to the 1880s in the collections of Robert Woodthorpe, a surveyor- ethnologist, and his immediate interlocutors. In particular, I tease out the importance of images in which acts of producing colonial visual ethnology were depicted. In the second half of the paper, I explore the ways in which this ‘fragmented gaze’ inflected the emergence of British India’s frontiers as key regions for the development of social anthropology, but also areas in which the scientificity of this discipline continued to be questioned. I conclude by briefly considering the continuation of these trends into the twentieth century and demonstrating the importance of visual modalities and anthropological methods of analysis to colonial and postcolonial states’ conflicted interactions with the inhabitants of South Asia’s territorial fringes.
Frank Heidemann (University of Munich): Badaga political photography
In South India, political leadership is depicted in a number of contexts. Photographs of leaders are displayed in public buildings and private houses, at political meetings and religious processions and are circulated in a variety of media. Political photography is always a means of arguing a point. The pose, the dress, the backdrop, the gaze and other visual messages are instrumental in conveying political orientation, party affiliation and other dimensions of identification. I shall introduce the political photography of a South Indian peasant community, the Badaga, who live in the Nilgiri Hills, commemorating their first elected political leader, H.B. Ari Gowder (1893–1971). I shall argue that a number of visual codes indicate their cultural and political orientation. Photographs of Ari Gowder are used at Badaga Day, an annual celebration of Badaga indigeneity, and are used as emblems for ethnic identification. I shall argue that visible aspects of culture such as dress and ornaments have become a major marker for Badaga identity and overshadowed other powerful markers such as having their own language or religious belief.
Paolo Favero (University of Antwerp) & Giulia Battaglia (Musée du quai Branly, Paris): Screening India through digital image-making
This paper seeks to initiate a dialogue between visual anthropologists and image-makers entrenched in digital practices in India. Split into two parts, we plan to bring together our ethnographic material to start thinking about such exchange. In a joined publication (cf. Battaglia and Favero forthc. 2014) we point out how the contemporary incipient exploration of digital practices of image-making (within and outside anthropology) is forcing us to challenge the customary assumptions on which ethnographic film and visual anthropology have been based. Such practices seem to ask us to renew our understanding of images at large and to re-think our definitions of visual culture. India is an interesting ethnographic site for testing such assumptions. The subcontinent has recently witnessed a boom of innovative digital experimentations. Ranging from the renowned activities of the Raqs Media Collective (New Delhi), to the experimental digital annotation of Pad.ma (Berlin-Mumbai-Bangalore), the open space for media(tion) of Khetro (Kolkata) and the many multiple media campaigns aimed at addressing critical social issues, digital practices are mushrooming across the country. They offer a critical revision to the representations and forms that have characterized conventional documentary filmmaking. Based on our recent research projects in this paper we aim to share some preliminary findings of our complementary research on this theme. Dialoguing on the basis of our ethnographic material we will address a number of topics. For instance, we will provide archival evidence of the way in which in India the category of ‘anthropological’ and/or ‘ethnographic’ film has developed outside the international aura of visual anthropology. We will analyse the multiple ways in which contemporary image-making practices in the subcontinent are challenging innovations emerging within visual anthropology and beyond. Moreover, we will contribute in blurring definitions of genre, language and technology upon which academic analyses conventionally rest. Our goal is also to start exploring the modality in which such new practices can provide us with precious tolls for addressing wider societal changes.