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Jour Fixe


Thursday, 19 May 2016 4-6 pm

Sumathi Ramaswamy (Duke University/ Anneliese Maier Research Award by the Humboldt Foundation) & Barbara Mittler (Heidelberg): Death Becomes Them: The Fate of the Fatherly Corpses of Gandhi and Mao

Introduction by Christiane Brosius (Heidelberg) & Patrick Geary (Princeton)

Paper jointly presented by Barbara Mittler and Sumathi Ramaswamy under the auspices of the workshop ‘Materials on the Move’ organised in cooperation between the HCTS and the Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften.

In this joint and comparative presentation, we focus on the funerals of two of the most iconic men of the twentieth century, Mohandas K. Gandhi (the “Mahātma,” great soul, but also “Bapu,” father) of India, and Mao Zedong (“The Great Leader,” and “Chairman”) of China, and examine the the posthumous fortunes of their fatherly bodies.

In the Mahātma’s case, the assassinated body literally vaporizes as it was cremated in early February 1948, while the event itself came to be immortalized in stunning photographs by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Margaret Bourke-White, Homai Vyarwalla, and Kulwant Roy, among others. 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, a man who suffered for Mother India and surrendered his life for her. 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 the heart of 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 Mahātma’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?

In this presentation, we will use the visual record produced around the funerals of these men, and the subsequent imaging of their posthumous lives, to arrive at answers to these questions.

Gigi Scaria: No Parallel, 2010, Still from Video Installation

Thursday, 30 June 2016 4-6 pm

Copyright: Christopher Pinney

Christopher Pinney (London): The Waterless Sea: A Cultural and Political History of Mirages

Introduction: Christiane Brosius (Heidelberg)

Discussant: Sheba Chhachhi (Delhi)

Fata morgana have long astonished travellers, and “waterless seas” have beguiled thirsty desert voyagers. Complex cultural histories long predate the first English usage of the term “mirage” in 1800. Chinese and Japanese poetry and images depicted fata morgana as exhalations of clam-monsters, whereas Arab, Persian and Indian sources related “inferior” mirages to the “thirst of gazelles”, a metaphor for the nullity of desire. Mirages have been observed wherever there have been sufficient temperature gradients to generate the necessary refraction. This talk focuses chiefly on eastern or “Oriental” mirages that frequently conjoin the desert, Islam and the Ottoman Empire. These emblematize the antithesis of Tocquevillean “spectatorial democracy” in which politics was positively correlated with transparency. Islam exemplified an occlusion of which the mirage became a negative, but also enchanted, emblem (on first seeing the Kaaba in Mecca Richard Burton refers to “the mirage medium of Fancy”). The conclusion explores the way in which recent fata morgana (eg ones seen in Guangdong in 2015) feed into modern conspiracy theories which repeat the clash between “spectatorial democracy” and its occluded other. Finally, the philosophical importance of mirages, which are “real” but not “true”, is explored.

Christopher Pinney is a Professor of Anthropology and Visual Culture at University College London. His publications combine contemporary ethnography with the historical archaeology of particular media (see eg. his monographs Camera Indica and Photos of the Gods). The Coming of Photography in India, based on the Panizzi Lectures was published by the British Library in October 2008. In 2013, he was honoured by the Government of India with he the Padma Shri, a prestigious Indian civilian award, for his contributions to the field of literature.

Sheba Chhachhi is a Delhi-based artist whose lens based works investigate gender, the city, cultural memory and eco-philosophy, often drawing on pre-modern myth and iconography. Chhachhi began as an activist and photographer, documenting the women’s movement in India, moving on to immersive multimedia installations in both site-specific public art and independent works. Her works are held in significant public and private collections, including Tate Modern, UK, Kiran Nadar Museum, Delhi, BosePacia, New York , Singapore Art Museum and National Gallery of Modern Art, India.


General Information


Karl Jaspers Centre
Voßstraße 2, Building 4400
Room 212
69115 Heidelberg

The Jour Fixe is organised by the four Research Areas of the Cluster of Excellence “Asia and Europe in a Global Context” at Heidelberg University.


Poster Summer JF II