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The Transcultural Journeys of an Icon: the Nursing Mother

This cross media visualization of Monica Juneja’s essay “The breast-feeding mother as icon and source of affect in visual practice – a transcultural journey” enriches the original text with images not used in the print version and additionally features an interactive map of the images’ place of origin.  

The essay explores the travels of the image of the nursing mother from pre-historic sites in Central Europe  through ancient Egypt to post-colonial India. While  the image of Isis nursing Horus can be seen as an early identifiably programmatic expression of this motif, the image of the nursing mother first develops via the Virgin nursing Christ before it was appropriated by  iconography of the nation state in both 19th century Europe and India. Eventually becoming a rare occurrence in Europe, it has remained present in contemporary India, though reconfigured with a critical edge. Written words and a very limited number of plates can hardly illustrate the millennia-long development of an image as multi-faceted as that of the nursing mother, shaped as it was by many different contexts. This venture started out exploring the text itself, exploring the complexity of the subject matter and figuring how to illustrate it. We decided to use two different tools. One to embody the geo-temporal relations and another to illustrate the iconographic as well as textual interlinks. For the geo-temporal visualization we used GoogleEarth, for the iconographic-textual visualization HyperImage seemed more viable.

Resource types: text, images, maps, metadata
Time period: 6th century B.C to 2003
Languages: English  

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How can this resource be used in teaching, studying and research?

How can this resource be used in teaching, studying and research?
The geo-temporal realization makes the image journeys  of the nursing mother visually traceable and tangible. The timeline allows experiencing temporal co-occurrences in far distant places. The different ‘tours’ allow taking part in the images’ journeys from their places of origin to India. The pop-up descriptions give short information on the images and interlink them with the HyperImage presentation.
HyperImage provided the possibility to richly illustrate the original essay, something impossible in print. As there is no limitation to images used and light tables designed we were able to illustrate the original essay with about 70 images instead of the 10 images used in the print version. This makes the written word far better understandable and comprehensible. The links within the text clarify relations between images and refer to further information like Wikipedia or the libraries and museums where the original images are stored. Furthermore HyperImage offers the user the possibility to generate light tables himself, so he can assemble images in an order different from the already existing ones as well as annotate these light tables. The multiple possibilities of linking image elements and establishing relationships on the basis of connections perceived at the visual level, can stimulate fresh questions and insights, not discussed in the article. In this way the present visualization has the potential of opening up new paths of enquiry.

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