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Abstracts

“Pandemonium Asia: Shifts and Surges in the Flows of Images, Media and Info-Data”

Sarat Maharaj (London/Lund) (Opening Lecture)
How to grasp some of the intensive shifts and surges in the ‘flows of images, media and info-data’ today? My lecture will look at:(i) the move beyond ‘Spectacle’ as a discrete phenomenon in the media-world towards a sense of its ‘ubiquity’ – its ‘mundane everywhereness’ and the techno-gear that has made this possible.  

(ii) shifts from the North/South divide of modernity and development to the South/South axis and beyond in today’s gray-matter economy.

(iii) moves beyond migration as a one-way, linear experience to ‘entanglement’, how this involves a shift from cultural translation of the ‘other’ at the Empire’s edge to the ‘other in our midst’ in the contemporary scene of ‘over-translation’. 

The shifts from ‘laminar to turbulent’ flows (von Neumann) — suggest unpacking today’s ‘image-info-data-media flows’ in terms of disequilibrium, mistranslation and transformation. I hope to look at this through the leitmotif of John Milton’s Paradise Lost. His Satanic think-tank of ‘Pandemonium’ — image of post-English civil war hurly-burly — is applied to South Asia-in the-world and its diasporas as the emerging of the ‘nether empire’. 

 

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"The Flow and The Flood: Mediation, Migration, Circulation and Climate Change."

Nicholas Mirzoeff (NYU) (Keynote Lecture)
This paper examines metaphors of flow from media (Williams) and globalization (Appadurai) in the context of climate change and the "invisible" migration of the global subaltern. I argue that coloniality has depended on landedness as its means of visualizing the social, representing the sea as the placeless and timeless domain of the multitude. The present crisis of circulation is an immersion in what has been termed "oceans" of debt, while "liquidity" is nowhere to be found, even as the coastal land on which capitalist circulation depends is under threat of flooding. Circulation, it appears, does not take place either in Thomas Friedman's "flat earth" or the virtuality of cybercapitalism but in a biopolitical mediation of the "natural". Circulation in this view would be rendered as a secularized form of the Atlantic world figure of the cosmogram in which the worlds of living and the dead are mediated by the sea. This circulation is represented as the African-Asian-European figure of Mami Wata, known in the Anglophone world as the mermaid, and described as a "capitalist deity." The embodied counterpoint to the spirit of circulation is the subaltern migrant, the wretched of the sea. In short, I intend a polyphonic mediation of Derek Walcott's understanding that "the sea is history". 

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"Plato plays music to the animals: Interpictorial practice as a dimension of transcultural visuality."

Monica Juneja (Heidelberg)
Entanglements between images and visual regimes in contact zones across Europe and Asia go back to many centuries. A thirteenth century Persian literary work by the poet Nizami describes an episode in which Plato (Pers. Aflātūn) formed part of the circle of Greek philosophers at Alexander’s court. To outdo his rival Aristū (Aristotle), he invents a musical instrument that would charm the animals of the wilderness. A fine pictorial rendering of this subject was produced in North India more than three hundred years later. Till date this motif has been interpreted in terms of cultural transfer and the adaptation of Solomonic ideals to North Indian kingship (E. Koch). What remains unexplained is an unusual phenomenon: the presence of Christian images embedded in the heart of this representation which goes beyond the requirements of the literary text to juxtapose different visual regimes.

Important as the study of iconographic transfers or flows is to encounters between cultures, I wish to argue that the potential of transculturality as method allows you to look at the implications of entangled visualities for the practice of representation per se. By examining closely the kinds of images that were used to create a system of inter-pictorial references across cultures, my presentation problematises the way artists of north Indian courts reconceptualise their own practice by locating it in relation to other regimes they encounter.

It would appear that such a form of incorporation was less an example of incomplete assimilation or partial /selective appropriation of European visual practices, neither can it be read as a form of resistance to western illusionism (Belting). Rather it opened a way for artists to thematise their own practices, to draw attention to the multiple possibilities inherent in the act of seeing itself. From within the interstices of entangled visual regimes we can then recover an emergent concept of the artist that transcends the favorite dichotomy posited in much art historical writing between the individual genius and the anonymous artisan. 

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"Love in the Age of Valentine and pink underwear: Negotiating romantic love and the asymmetries of transcultural image and media flows"

Christiane Brosius (Heidelberg)
In English-speaking countries, Valentine’s Day, celebrated on 14 February of every year, has become an established ritual through which unmarried and married lovers express their sentiments for each other by sending greeting cards, chocolate and flowers. While the sending of Valentines became a fashion in Great Britain in the 19th century, the celebration of romantic love and longing by means of this ritual entered non-western countries much later: Japan (1960s) was followed by China, South Korea, Latin American countries and the Middle East. In India, it arrived around the year 2000 where it immediately clashed with conservative religio-orthodox and nationalist forces, at the same time, firing the imagination and agitations of young middle class youth in India’s metropolitan centres. Reasons of conflict were manifold: there was the accusation that romantic love and, in particular, their public declaration in public spaces and mass media was ‚un-Indian’ because Indian culture respected the choice of parents and astrologers in arranging marriages. Furthermore, for heterosexuals to hold hands, and for anyone to kiss in public was coined as ‚abnormal’, subversive and ‚immoral’. Another aspect criticised by a variety of groups (not just Hindu nationalists!) was that Valentine’s Day signified another wave of cultural colonisation and means of introducing hedonistic ideologies and consumer cultures to the Indian market. In 2009, Valentine’s Day became the locus of a highly emotional and yet again physically aggressive debate around values and norms of ‘Indian society’ versus ‘western society’.

The discourse on Valentine’s Day in India is highly visual and intermedial. The presentation addresses the issue of a glocalised imaginary of what ‘western’ and yet localised lifestyle could mean for a host of social agents. Furthermore, it explores the idea of image itineraries and media shifts across cultural and national boundaries, quite like the Danish Cartoon debate did. Moreover, it raises questions about the relevance of performativity, intervisuality and intermediality with respect to the fabric of the ‘transcultural’ as it nests in manifold public spheres. 

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"‘Their Marriage United 900,000,000 People’: The Immortal Journey of Dr Kotnis (1946)"

Patricia Uberoi (Institute of Chinese Studies, Delhi)
By any standards, V. Shantaram’s Dr Kotnis ki Amar Kahani (Immortal Journey of Dr Kotnis, 1946) had an extraordinary trans-national, trans-cultural and trans-genre career over six decades. Made as a British-Indian war effort film, it had a successful run as a mainstream Bombay film, though admittedly not among Shantaram’s best. An English language version, with motivated cosmetic changes, was simultaneously made and released in the US under the title, The Journey of Dr Kotnis (1947). Appropriated to the ‘foreign film’ or ‘art film’ distribution networks, it sank without trace – a classic case of failed translation -- only to be resurrected and cannibalized a few years later into the anti-Communist ‘exploitation’ movie, Nightmare in Red China (1955). It survives in the Western cinematic archive as subterranean ‘camp’, not quite bad enough to be good; and in Indian collective memory as a canonical film that also cinematically inaugurated a particular phase in independent India’s relationship with China, a phase retrospectively  characterized in the idiom of betrayal.

This presentation seeks to explore the film’s construction of Chinese-ness vis-à-vis Indian self-hood, asking in what terms, if at all, the Indian nationalist imagination could envision Chinese alterity independent of Hollywood mediation. It is a question that in fact has bearing on long-term prospects of Asian regional security.

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"The cosmopolitans’ visual illusions: Conceptual transculturality in global history"

Madeleine Herren-Oesch (Heidelberg)
In the late 19th century, a border-crossing way of life blurred the governing concepts of order and challenged long-lasting forms of cooperation within epistemic communities, religious groups and political associations. With more and more individuals crossing borders for a variety of reasons earlier concepts of how to perform a border-crossing life lost their explanatory force and their identity-building power. The question is who creates and accepts the label of “cosmopolitan” and “internationalist”? Or which models and visual performances are connected with border-crossing lives? Of course, a history of some internationalists is available, as much as a history of international lawyers or of some exponents of the socialist Internationale. But we know almost nothing about their daily lives, what they missed most, how they managed the border crossing, which commuting system they used, where they lived. We do not know under what historical circumstances a border-crossing life is a happy life, although limited to an elite, or whether the expression “cosmopolitan” just describes the state of desperate homelessness. Avoiding methodological nationalism by using a transcultural approach this paper asks how internationalists gained visibility, how they marked their globality and their border-crossing attitudes in a world full of national symbols. 

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"Visual Flows and the Art of Cosmopolitism: Ma Jun, David Diao and Tomokazu Matsuyama"

Alexandra Chang (NYU)
As artists whose works and selves inhabit the transcultural cosmopolitan space between urban sites in Asia, the U.S. and Europe, Ma Jun, David Diao and Tomokazu Matsuyama each utilize an amalgam of Western and Asian icons and images, from consumer design and art historical icons to medium, within their work. Their artwork provides a space to explore the overlaps and cultural collisions of Asian and Western aesthetics and iconographies through medium and potential visualities.

Polarity and hybridity is explored in the works of Ma and Matsuyama, each artist operating from a different vantage point. Ma’s ceramic works comment on the legacy of the import of Western consumer design in the ’80s, when icons of the West became the everyday icons in China. As an artist producing his work in China, Ma’s work, represented in both New York and Frankfurt, also ironically engages the viewer in the cultural economy of the historical export of traditional Chinese ceramics created for Western export.

Matsuyama, an Asian diasporic artist living “in between” East and West, from New York to Tokyo, searches for a visual language that can approximate the patchwork of image flows in each space as possessing a similar organic cosmopolitanism in which the chaos of imagery in such spaces of connection and interaction have become the everyday. He utilizes famous ukiyo-e renderings, reconfigured and re-appropriated within his work, adopting Western textile patterns and street art influences.

Diao is an artist from China who grew up in British colonial Hong Kong and under the protestant Lutheran missionary influence. After moving to the U.S., he in turn found himself imbued in and working under the bible of Abstract Modernism in New York City. His work would grow to co-opt the art historical icons of the Western art historical lexicon — the very art historical personas of Richter and Rodchenko, the legacy of a Modern art ontology of Barr, the icons of Bauhaus and Western Modernist architectures. Diao utilizes these references as a play of international standards and measures of visual art and design and in turn investigates his status as both included in this realm and yet excluded as an artist from China/Hong Kong living and showing in the West and international art market. Each artist explores notions of an art historical past filled with rupture yet co-opts the very foundations of an art history and concept of mythic art historical traditions coming from Europe, the U.S. and Asia to examine and appropriate such structures of culturally divined hegemony within their work. 

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"The Battle of Lepanto as a Flowing Image"

Timon Screech (London)
The Battle of Lepanto of 1571 pitted an Islamic fleet of the Ottoman Empire against a similarly-sized Christian Holy League, under Venice and the Papacy. The battle was crucial in clearing the Mediterranean of enemy shipping, allowing the European states to dominate. The battle was said to have been won by intercession of the Virgin of the Rosary, and it was projected throughout the Catholic world as a victory of the true faith over heathens and heretics, that is, over non-Christians and Protestants.

The battle gave rise to a great deal of mythological constructions, and of imagery both in Europe (notably in those regions where the Protestant presence was strongly felt) and in Latin American and Asia. This paper will consider the excretions on the event itself, particularly with reference to Japan, where news of Lepanto arrived towards the end of the 16th century. Like other places, Japan was subjected to intense evangelism by the Jesuits, for whom Lepanto became a central motif, being an aggressive order, created to seek coverts.

Of particular interest is a folding screen of the battle from c. 1600 that survives in Japan and is now in the Imperial Household Collection, though its earlier provenance is not known. Elements within the picture can be traced to assorted European sources, and ultimately to the great set of images of the battle made for display in the Escorial in Spain.

The first Japanese Christian embassy to Rome, which arrived in 1585, was introduced to the Lepanto admiral Andrea Doria, who even lent his ship for their return to Spain.

This paper will centre of the extant Japanese screen and will link it with the large iconography of the Battle of Lepanto. 

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"Guides to a New Kind of Paradise: Shanghai Entertainment Newspapers, the World and the Invention of Chinese Urban Leisure"

Catherine Yeh (Boston)
With the introduction of the entertainment newspaper from the West to China during the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century, a new concept of leisure was subtly ushered into Chinese urban life. Within the confines of the newspage, all that which the modern world can offer is on display. In the display of exotic goods and images, a new vision of paradise is evoked. At its center is the world as entertainment. Here the reader is to experience a sense of wonder and to discover previously hidden or unknown desires and pleasures. In this presentation, the world does not come in as a threat but as a dizzying variety of forms of entertainment. The reader is asked to visually traverse the civilized landscape of the illustrated paradise. For the urban reader, reading the entertainment newspaper was to experience a new quality of virtual leisure in a time-space mentally set off against the busy duties of the day. In the invention of urban leisure in modern China the entertainment newspaper thus become a most non-confrontational mediator in the global flow of concepts, institutions, and practices and the common people.
My paper explores the role of the entertainment newspaper in formulating the concept of the world as entertainment. It examines (1) this new leisure activity going on in a form of visual landscape that has the aim to evoke in the reader a sense for pleasant wonder; (2) the suspension of the hierarchies governing the “real” world in the construction of modern leisure; (3) the unforeseen social consequences of this cultural construction of the modern Paradise and its impact on resetting the hierarchy of importance of the outside world by privileging the margin in highlighting items such as novels, goods such as delicacies, or persons such as courtesans and actors.
 

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"An Exotic Self? Flows of Western Nude Images in The Pei-yang Pictorial News (1926-1933)"

Sun Liying (Heidelberg)
After Western (mainly French, German) nude images were introduced into China during the Late Qing, they were condemned as immoral and obscene. Their public circulation was thus strictly limited before the 1920s. Conversely, as of the mid-1920s, Western nude images were considered beautiful and iconized as the symbol of western civilization. Consequently, they flourished and formed substantial flows in Chinese print thereby becoming indispensable in Chinese pictorials, such as The Pei-yang Pictorial News (Beiyang huabao).

This interesting cultural phenomenon challenges us to think Western nude images in Chinese print in terms of “transculturality”: what was the boarder and cultural context of the Western nude images in the West? What were the crucial factors before/after nude images were reprinted in pictorials that allowed images to be de-contextualised, reframed and reinterpreted for the Chinese context? Who were the agents? How was Western culture objectified during the whole process?

By examining flows of Western nude images in The Pei-yang Pictorials from 1926 to 1933, this paper traces the origins of western nude images, explores the roles pictorials played, and the transcultural strategies editors employed when absorbing Western nude images into Chinese culture. I will argue that The Pei-yang Pictorial News created a type of “exotic Self” by means of surrounding nude images with traditional Chinese cultural elements as well as captions full of Chinese literary quotations. Imported nude images were thus empowered with a distinct Chinese cultural imaginary. 

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"The 99": Islamic Superheroes?"

Susanne Enderwitz (Heidelberg)
It seems to be an extraordinary success story. Less than five years ago, a Kuweiti businessman and psychologist started a series of comics named after the 99 "most beautiful names" of Allah (in Qur'anic terms), each of them represented by a male or female youth with special skills and talents according to his or her name. Today, the comics which challenge the prevalence of American supermen (such as Batman, Superman or Spiderman, the Incredible Hulk or Thunderbolts) are distributed in more than a dozen countries and can also be obtained electronically. This raises the question of the Islamic content of these stories which will be addressed in my paper. Do they present the familiar Western stories of superheroes in just an Islamicized garb? Do we encounter superheroes of an Islamic origin with a specific religious message for a Muslim audience? Or are the superheroes meant to disseminate a hybrid amalgam of ethical values on a global public stage? In any of these cases, we encounter a truly transcultural phenomenon. Whereas the drawing techniques of the comics are rather familiar from their American brothers and sisters, the personae themselves are no longer predominantly Western, and the point of reference is explicitly Arabic-Islamic. In their departure from the Judaeo-Christian tradition, in its supplementation or even substitution by the sources of the third and youngest monotheistic tradition, "The 99" defy the representational role of hitherto dominant paradigms of strength, the power and the will. 

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"Kannon – Guanyin – Virgin Mary: Early modern discourses on alterity, religion and images."

Eva Zhang (Heidelberg)
Religious difference is a key concept for defining a European identity. Cultural accommodation, such as the Jesuits attempted e.g. in China and Japan are more infrequent among religious encounters of the early modern period. These encounters and exchanges between Europe and Asia had a significant impact on the self-definition of these societies. On the basis of these different internal and external perceptions new formulas of depiction of “otherness” appeared. Much has been written about Christianity and European missions in Asia, but the accompanying images, which emerged from these encounters, have been seldomly discussed. In order to visualize the Asians as people of a different culture, new visual and iconographic codes had to be invented. Such images raise the following questions: what kinds of religious images and information were developed and exchanged between Asia and Europe? What modification processes took place, and which models of visualizing early modern discourses on alterity and religion occurred?

During the early modern missions in China and Japan some missionaries recognized the iconographic similarities between Guanyin (Kannon in Japanese), the Chinese Buddhist bodhisattva of mercy, and the Virgin Mary of Christianity and merged depictions of both to easier convert the Chinese and Japanese people. Is the Kannon – Guanyin - Virgin Mary an example of applying occidental schemata of perception to other cultures or a proto-scientific approach for elucidating the origins of religion? These questions will be considered regarding early modern reflections on images, idols and religion as well as on contemporary exegeses on the migration of images and the paradigms of transcultural flows. These reflections and exegeses will be complemented with a discussion on what occurs once images generated in a specific discourse change their media and context and take on further connotation. 

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"Iconic Encounters: Images and Shrines in Goa"

Alexander Henn (Arizona)
Wayside shrines — representing Hindu and Catholic divinities and saints — show an astonishing dynamic in the cities of Goa / India. They not only persist in a milieu of drastic modern change that often seems to be at odds with their traditional locations, aesthetics and purposes. Some of them even flourish enormously and exceed temples, churches and mosques in popularity. How can this striking persistence and popularity of the seemingly marginal religious monuments in the urban space be explained? I will argue in this chapter that this dynamic is owed to the fact that the shrines respond to three forms of mobility that are occurring in particular in modern urban environments: 1) cultural mobility, that is, the diversification and fluctuation of religious ideas and practices, 2) social mobility, that is, the diversification and fluctuation of people from different castes, social classes and geographical regions, as well as the change of caste and class status due to socio-economic change and 3) physical mobility, that is, the movement of and movement in an increasingly dense and complex motorized traffic. In doing so the shrines modify and transform the centuries-old spatio-religious system of Hindus and Catholics to fit the conditions of late-modern city life. In particular they allow a culturally diversifying, socially changing and geographically fluctuating population to engage with a variety of personalized deities and saints whose charismatic authority is not only quite independent from formalized local social hierarchies, but often also cuts across the orthodox divisions between religious traditions. 

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"The changing image of Sinhalese Healing Rituals: Performing Identity in new public spheres"

Eva Ambos (Heidelberg)
Sinhalese healing rituals, traditionally performed as night-long village performances, have undergone dramatic changes in the last century. In this process, different images developed: from their original purpose as a means to heal to the term ‘devil dances’ by British missionaries to the recent marketing as exotic ‘tourist art’ in (new) media. These images are not exclusive but rather entangled. Thus, attention has to be paid to the ‘biography’ of these performances and the images.

Media transform also the content of these performances: Performative aspects of the healing rituals like drumming and the dramatic mask dances are emphasized, ‘religious’ ones like the recitation of mantrams are neglected to adapt to the taste of new consumers and to new forms of representation (e. g. TV, film, internet). Images which attract a new audience like tourists and which generate new meanings are produced and distributed, exported and re-imported.

The traditional performers of these rituals, the low caste beravā, seem to disappear more and more from the sight as the institutionalization and marketing of these cultural practices and their images progress. Within this process, the Sri Lankan government with its ‘agent’, the national Tourist Board, promotes the dances, extracted from the healing rituals, as ‘national heritage’, above all by means of the ‘visual’ to advertise ‘authenticity’. This leads to questions regarding the role of ‘transculturality’ as in this case the boundaries of ‘culture’ or ‘national identity’ are even sharpened. The flip-side of this mainly visual and performative promotion of ‘culture’ and ‘tradition’ is the perception of the addressee of these images, tourists from abroad. The (exotic) identity of ‘the Other’ is (re)presented whereby asymmetries as ‘side-effects’ of the flows of media and images are generated.

Further power relations are entangled with the promotion and sponsoring of these images and visualities: In ‘nationalizing’ Sinhalese cultural traditions like the ritual dances the heritage of the Tamils is excluded. The Sinhalese-Buddhist regime is legitimatized in drawing a line from ‘origins’ and ‘history’ to the present. This shows that images although they might be mobile and transgressing boundaries are nevertheless accompanied by ideologies, embedded in power relations and affect the status of people in shaping the view on their culture, practices, lifestyle etc. 

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"The Work of Goddesses in the Age of Technological Reproduction"

Sumathi Ramaswamy (Durham)
In October 2006, the globally recognizable Statue of Liberty travelled—virtually— from New York city’s harbor to an unusual new location: the map of India as it appeared on an artist’s computer screen in distant New Delhi, India. With some critical transformations that speak to her new identity as “Dalit Devi: English the Dalit Goddess”, the Statue of Liberty has digitally morphed into the new icon for the Dalits of India in their centuries-long struggles against caste, class and linguistic oppression. Drawing upon Michael Taussig’s productive engagement with “an eccentric history of the mimetic faculty” in modernity, I consider the trans-cultural reincarnations of the Euro-American Statue of Liberty—itself possibly based on Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi’s visualizations of the Egyptian fellah woman in the 1850s and 1860s—as China’s Goddess of Democracy briefly visible in the summer of 1989 in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, as well as India’s new Dalit Devi, proudly resident in the national map. How best may we come to understand such trans-cultural technologically reproduced travels across space and time of this female image of a goddess bearing a torch (or its variant) which has proved to be such a fecund, even excessive, source of modelling, mimicry and morphing in our times?  Drawing upon the “image chain” produced around this figure, I explore “the mimetic shudder [that] tears at identity and proliferates associations of a self bound magically to an Other, too close to that Other to be but dimly recognizable, too much the self to allow for satisfying alterity” (Taussig). 


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"Haunted Relationships and Cinephilic Imagination in India?"

Ajay Sinha (Mount Holyoke College)
While transculturalism is largely understood as a matter of spatial relationships implied in global media exchanges, including geographical and personal border-crossing between here and there (for example, between Euro- and Ethno-, or public and private, positions in the Concept Notes for the Conference) my paper will explore the possibility of a ‘temporal’ relationship in such exchanges. Cinephilia is the term through which I will introduce a shift from spatial and territorial descriptors of transcultural media flows to what Gilles Deleuze calls ‘nomadic thoughts,’ allowing for an eruption of subterranean histories and unknown desires within such flows.  For a start, I will bring to the term what film historian, Siegfried Kracauer, calls audience’s ‘susceptibility’ from the earliest period of cinema, making cinephilia spill beyond its definition in Euro-American Film Studies as mode of connoisseurship relating to French and American cinema, and become co-extensive with global media history. I will elaborate upon Kracaurean susceptibility and complicity in an analysis of visual and filmic images from India, discussing in detail at least one contemporary artist, Pushpamala N., in whose work I find an especially compelling example of cinephilia. Since the mid-1990s, Pushpamala has worked on photographic projects in which she uses her body to impersonate a wide range of subjects from India’s popular media, including film. The zone of corporeal exchange, to which the artist gives the reality effect of a photograph, makes the cinephile’s present an indexical record of an uncanny afterlife, replete with allegorical possibilities. 

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"Photography in Meiji Japan and the Making of the Icons of “National Femininity”: Re-Examining Female Images in Meiji Souvenir Photography"

Mio Wakita (Heidelberg)
Emerging amidst the flux of images and visual media between Japan and Europe during the late nineteenth century, Meiji souvenir photography catering to Western customers marks an important intersection of transcultural flow of images and media.

Photography as a visual media of Western modernity was often regarded as universal, supposedly governing and dictating the global visual practice with its visuality and mediality in a uniform way. Yet Meiji photographic practices put this myth of the monolithic notion of “photography” into question, rather revealing the culturally specific historicity of “photography” as practice and the diversity of its employment. The specificity in the employment of photographic media in Meiji Japan, confronted with the visual novelty brought about by Western photographic media, also alludes to particular connotation of photographic images, and simultaneously denotes a precarious structure of en- and decoding processes of photographic texts. This very ambiguity manifests itself most apparently in souvenir photographs of the Meiji period, with Japanese image creators on one side and western image consumers on the other side of the image process.

By looking into the making of images of Japanese femininity in Meiji souvenir photography, this paper aims to re-examine the highly intricate process of generating visual semantics in the photographic media in Meiji Japan, demonstrating the asymmetries in the concept of photography as well as the contested meanings of photographic texts between late nineteenth-century Japan and Europe. 

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"Transcultural Mock History from India? Ramavatar Sharma’s puzzling Mudgaranandcharit (1912-13)"

Hans Harder (Heidelberg)
Ramavatar Sharma from Patna, a renowned colonial Sanskritist and propagator of Hindi as the national Indian language, strolls through Indian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Greek, Roman, Renaissance and colonial Indian history in his Madgaranandcharit, with the help of his first person narrator Mudgaranand, a Neptunian superhuman figure.

Mudgaranand is 11.000 years old; he possesses two souls and bodies that permit him to travel freely through time and space, but do not prevent him, in the dénouement, from being taken to a colonial court of justice as the main suspect in an incendiary killing a cow and two humans during the Kumbh mela in Allahabad.

Are we to interpret this as a utopia, a colonial satire, an Indianised world history, or a modern Purana? My reading of Sharma’s Hindi text will try to explore the exploding layers of meaning of this puzzling (and largely forgotten) piece, and to find clues to this colonial scholar's intellectual repertoire for tackling issues of transcultural world history and colonial marginality. 

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"The Telegraph as Medium and Mediator in Nineteenth-Century Colonial India"

Amelia Bonea (Heidelberg)
The inauguration of the first direct submarine telegraph line with India in 1870 represented a significant step towards a fundamental reworking of the nature of communication between Britain and the Indian subcontinent. From a technical perspective, the telegraph was the first in a long line of electronic media which enabled the flow of information between colony and imperial metropolis at speeds hitherto unheard of; from a socio-cultural perspective, the telegraph was a mediator of human interaction with the physical and social world and, as such, it opened up new ways of experiencing, understanding and conceptualizing that world.

This paper explores the possibilities and the limitations of the telegraph as a mediational tool in nineteenth-century colonial India. Based on British and Indian historical accounts, this paper shows that the telegraph as a medium of communication was both enabling and constraining, and that the relationships mediated by the telegraph were shaped not only by its technical characteristics, but also by the socio-cultural, political and/or economic positioning of the actors between which it was mediating. To illustrate this, the paper will focus on the transmission of press messages over the wires between Britain and India. The analysis will show how the medium had a quantitative impact on the message in the sense that news messages became shorter, more concise, and more standardized. In the same time, the web of socio-political activities which surrounded the use of the telegraph in nineteenth-century India also had a qualitative impact on the message. This was reflected, for example, in the selection and content of press messages transmitted by Reuters, the main supplier of news to and about India, who was known to have a controversial relationship with the colonial government of India during the nineteenth century. 

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