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Monica Juneja published article “The Body as a Stage”

04. Aug. 2017

Prof. Monica Juneja, Chair of Global Art History at the Heidelberg Center for Transcultural Studies (HCTS), published the article “Beyond Man and Woman. The Body as a Stage” in the latest issue of Heidelberg University's science magazine Ruperto Carola. In her article, Juneja analyzes the differences between painted portraits and texts of men and women from the North Indian Mughal courts.

The Body as a Stage deals with portraits painted at North Indian Mughal courts during early modern times. They reveal an appealing quality as the portrayal of men and women is remarkably similar, often even interchangeable. Equally striking is the prevention of individualization and a suppression of emotion when painting faces. Instead, the images focus on making a person’s affiliation to a social stratum visible – and in the case of imperial portraits, strive to illustrate the ruler’s claim to universal kingship. Canonical writings in art history define portraits as a genre whose function it was to depict a unique human being by capturing individual appearance as well as revealing interiority.

“Portraits are conventionally meant to depict the uniqueness of an individual – at the Mughal courts of North India, they acquired a different set of functions. In these portraits, men and women were seen as remarkably similar, even interchangeable.” 

A study of North Indian portraits illustrates their potential to fulfil different tasks in new contexts. Such a reconfigured use of painted portraits emerges through a history of transcultural relationships, shaped by cultural and artistic movements from the Islamic West, Central Asia and Europe. This example sensitizes us to the multitude of processes that can unfold between agents, text and image traditions, and material objects – beyond oppositions like mere “diffusion” or definite rejection. An art history that seeks to develop a global perspective is therefore called upon to rethink its concepts, as also to be able to plausibly accommodate cultural plurality within a framework of transcultural exchange.

The science magazine Rupero Carola is provided by the University of Heidelberg focuses on the topic “Man and Woman” in its current issue. Women were enrolled at Heidelberg University for the first time in May 1900, while nowadays women self-evidently belong to the current image of the University. However, the question of similarities and differences in the relationship between men and women remained a relevant issue – whether in an academic context nor on the level of sexuality, partnership and society.

Prof. Monica Juneja holds the Chair of Global Art History at the Heidelberg Center for Transcultural Studies (HCTS). She is further speaker of Research Area D “Historicities and Heritage” at the Cluster “Asia and Europe”. Juneja is also designated director of the Cluster "Asia and Europe".


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