Dr Annamaria Motrescu-Mayes (Centre of South Asian Studies, University of Cambridge): ‘The Ascent of Man': visual priming, material culture and early photographs of Ceylon
A man climbing a coconut tree – the recurrent visual narrative of early photographs portraying, exoticising Ceylonese customs. A businesswoman climbing a coconut tree – the latest interpretation of a particular gender trope defining popular visual culture in South Asia. This paper explores the visual priming framework that unites these two representations, the first available across numerous visual records from the late nineteenth century, such as drawings, paintings and photographs, and the second a composite media made by American artist Rajkamal Kahlon in 2011. The proposed comparative analysis will review anthropological perspectives pertinent to representations of cultural power relations in colonial Ceylon, and will discuss how recently re-interpreted visual narratives of particular gender identities function within, as well as shape, new dimensions of contemporary South Asian material culture. Case studies selected from the photographic collections held by the British Library, the Centre of South Asian Studies (Cambridge), and the Royal Commonwealth Society Collections will be discussed alongside Kahlon’s artwork ‘You’ve come a long way, Baby!’.
Professor Elizabeth Edwards (Director of Photographic History Research Centre, De Montfort University, Leicester): Folded in Time: Contemplating a Photographic Album
In this paper I use a family album - domestic images inserted in a mass- produced chromolithographed album - as a springboard for thinking about the nature of late nineteenth and early twentieth century historical imagination. I explore this object as a series of nested materialities in which the temporalities of family, local and national histories are both represented and embedded. Following a close critical reading of the object itself, I use Michel Serres' concept of folded time to consider the wider historiographical significances of the material and temporal processes which this album illuminates.
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For further information please visit Things: Comparing Material Cultures 1500-1900 (main page)