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Upcoming Programmes

DEC Onwards
Criticism & Theory
Liberalism and its Indian Afterlife
Faisal Devji
JAN Onwards
Islamic Aesthetics
In the Triangle of Samarkand
Ilker Evrim Binbaş
JAN Onwards
Islamic Aesthetics
From International Timurid to Ottoman
Gülru Necipoğlu
JAN Onwards
Islamic Aesthetics
Architecture & Decor
Yves Porter
JAN Onwards
Islamic Aesthetics
After Timur: Calligraphy and the Arts
Simon Rettig
Islamic Aesthetics
The Global Muṣḥ af: Visual Identity,
Simon Rettig
JAN Onwards
Indian Aesthetics
Thief Who Stole My Heart:
Vidya Dehejia

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Queens Mansion, 3rd Floor, G. Talwatkar Marg, Fort, Mumbai - 400001. India.
E-mail: to.jnanapravaha@gmail.com, info@jp-india.org
Tel      : +91-22-2207 2974 / 2207 2975
Landmark: We are next to Cathedral Middle School, in the lane opposite J.B.Petit School.



No Parallel? The Fatherly Bodies of Gandhi and Mao: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue

20 - 23 Feb '18 6.30 pm - 8.30 pm

Image: Gigi Scaria, No Parallel, 2010 (detail), with permission of the artist.

This seminar series including an artists’ forum focuses on two hyper-visible men of the twentieth century, Mahatma Gandhi and Chairman Mao, to consider how they have been transformed over the course of the last century through visual imagery and image-events into globally recognizable “bio-icons.” Situated at the intersection of the visual politics of masculinity and the cultural politics of fatherhood, this interdisciplinary dialogue between historians, art historians, and artists seeks to illuminate how the corporeal is critical to the affective and ethical reach of such bio-icons within the imagined communities of their respective nations.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Producing Charisma: Clothing and Unclothing the Fatherly Body

The focus of this lecture is on the aesthetic charge of (un-)clothing the male body. We show how acts of dressing up (in the case of Mao) and undressing (in the case of Gandhi) built symbolic and moral capital or charisma for these men, especially among the vast peasant populations they tried to connect with through such sartorial acts.

While baring his body brought Gandhi some amount of global notoriety as the “half-naked fakir,” it also enabled him to tap into deep traditions of asceticism in the subcontinent that cemented his status as Mahatma. Artists of his time and since enthusiastically began to develop an aesthetic of asceticism around his body. Comparatively, we will focus upon those images that throw into relief Chinese artistic representations of a fully-clothed plump and rather feminized Mao whose rounded body is produced through an aesthetic of corpulence. We argue that while Gandhi’s emaciated body seemingly reaffirms a dominant colonial stereotype of a starving Indian nation, Mao’s well-fed form contests prevailing notions of “the sick man of Asia.” In juxtaposing the clothed corpulent Mao and the unclothed spare Gandhi, we intend to show how both father figures radically transgressed governing norms of masculine charisma, redefining the terms of patriotic masculinity. Yet, importantly, the baring of the body is among the least imitated of Gandhian somatic practices, even among Gandhians, while Mao’s feminine bodylines and their remakes by contemporary artists and advertisers have caused outrage in China and amusement abroad.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Sovereign Performance: Toward an Aesthetic of the Ambulatory and the Aquatic

This second lecture discusses singular events in the life-stories of Gandhi and Mao when their bodies were efficaciously used in a performative politics that served as assertions of somatic sovereignty on the part of both men. In Gandhi’s case, we have chosen his famous Salt March in 1930 when the barely-clad Mahatma walked more than 200 miles from Sabarmati to Dandi to make a fistful of salt at the ocean’s edge with which he challenged the legitimacy of British rule. The March, more than any other prior act, brought Gandhi’s bare-and-spare—and mobile—body to global visibility, and attracted a bevy of journalists to the scene of action. We focus on how the March captured the artistic imagination in India and abroad, then and since, with a view towards comparing the Mahatma’s ambulatory performance on land with Mao’s aquatic theatrics.

One of the most significant events displaying the type of body politics for which the Maoist era is renowned is the Chairman’s famous swim in the Yangzi river on July 16, 1966. The event marked Mao’s return to power at 72 after a period of respite. It was staged to demonstrate Mao’s fitness and capacity for continuing leadership. The event has since been commemorated on its anniversary in Wuhan and elsewhere in the country when tens of thousands thus express their continued devotion to the Chairman.

Thursday, February 22, 2018
Absent Presences: Death of the Father

The culmination of our seminar series—and its pièce-de-resistance—is a comparative exploration of the funerals of Gandhi and Mao and the posthumous fortunes of their fatherly bodies. In the Mahatma’s case, the assassinated body literally vaporizes as it was cremated on January 31, 1948, while the event itself came to be immortalized in stunning photographs. Meanwhile, material remains of his blood-spattered dhoti are enshrined in the National Gandhi Museum in New Delhi, even as countless art works visually transform him into the nation’s paradigmatic martyr. Mao as well desired to be cremated and wished his ashes to “fertilize” the soil of his beloved country. Contrary to these wishes though, his body was embalmed and encased, and since 1976, has been on exhibit in one of the largest memorial halls in Tian’anmen Square in Beijing, the focal point of a personality cult that has all but divinized him. If nationalism is a “somatic” formation, what lessons do we learn from a juxtaposition of the radically divergent posthumous careers of these two fatherly bodies? Is the Mahatma’s symbolic capital decreased because his material body is no longer available for consumption and affirmation, as is Mao’s? Or does the very (ever more deteriorating) materiality of Mao’s ever-present body, as opposed to Gandhi’s vanished torso, in fact produce much greater risk for his posthumous reputation, as iconoclastic pieces of contemporary art suggest?

Friday, February 23, 2018
Iconographies of Power:
An Artists’ Forum with Atul Dodiya and Yang Jiechang
(with commentaries by Martina Köppel-Yang and Arshiya Lokhandawala, and responses by Barbara Mittler and Sumathi Ramaswamy)

As we are convinced that looking at—rather than through—images can fundamentally alter the trajectory and indeed the terms of our historical work, our comparative collaborative project is built around an audacious juxtaposition of Gandhi’s bare-and-spare body and Mao’s clothed-and-corpulent form, and the varied trajectories of their deployment in the visual realm: iconographies of power. In the Artists’ Forum, we bring together artists, art historians and curators, and historians and the public in order to discuss how such iconographies of power are produced and consumed.

In our attempt to trace both the effective and the affective dimensions of such images, we suggest that the corporeal was critical to the ethical hold that these men had over their constituencies, even while it made them vulnerable to caricature. In comparatively illuminating the multiple connections between their imaged bodies and pictured power, and by systematically juxtaposing and contrasting images of these two powerful men across media, we hope to develop an understanding of what can and cannot be represented, pictured, conceived and seen about these men’s bodies and why. In engaging artists and scholars from different disciplines in this exercise, we hope to open the discussion to an open-ended dialogue which takes in the importance of producing and practicing as well as experiencing and consuming powerful images.

This series is sponsored by the Anneliese Maier Research Award of the Alexander van Humboldt Foundation, Germany, awarded to Sumathi Ramaswamy, and Kamalnayan Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation.


Barbara Mittler

Barbara Mittler holds a Chair in Chinese Studies at the University of Heidelberg. She is Director of the Heidelberg Centre for Transcultural Studies. She received an MA from the University of Oxford (MA Oxon 1990). Her PhD (1994) and her habilitation (1998) are both from Heidelberg. In 2000 she was awarded the Heinz-Maier-Leibnitz-Prize. In 2013, her book-length study of the Chinese Cultural Revolution won the Fairbank Prize by the American Historical Association. Her research focuses on cultural production in (greater) China covering a wide range of topics from music to (visual) and (historical) print media in China's long modernity.


Sumathi Ramaswamy

Sumathi Ramaswamy is Professor of History at Duke University and Co-Director of Duke’s India Initiative. She has published extensively on language politics, gender studies, spatial studies and the history of cartography, visual studies and the modern history of art, and more recently, digital humanities and the history of philanthropy.
Her most recent monograph is titled Terrestrial Lessons: The Conquest of the World as Globe (University of Chicago Press, 2017). She is the winner of numerous scholarly awards including from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation and the American Council of Learned Societies in the USA, and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Germany.


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Queens Mansion, 3rd Floor, G. Talwatkar Marg,
Fort, Mumbai - 400001. India.
Tel: +91-22-2207 2974 / 2207 2975.
Fax: +91-22-2207 2976.
Email: to.jnanapravaha@gmail.com,

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