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Lecture: "Sovereign Performance: Toward an Aesthetic of the Ambulatory and the Aquatic"

May 23, 2019 06:00 pm to 07:30 pm
Organiser: Völkerkundemuseum VPST, CATS
Völkerkundemuseum VPST, Haputstrasse 235, 69117 Heidelberg

Speakers: Barbara Mittler, Centre of East Asian Studies; Sumathi Ramaswamy, Duke University

Abstract:

This 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.

The lecture is part of the lecture series "No Parallel? The Fatherly Bodies of Gandhi and Mao" held in the context of the exhibition "Envisioning Asia: Gandhi and Mao in the Photographs of Walter Bosshard", which takes place at the Völkerkundemuseum VPST Heidelberg from April 28, 2019 to June 10, 2019. For more information about the full program of the exhibit, visit here.

About the lecture series:

The lecture series "No Parallel? The Fatherly Bodies of Gandhi and Mao" focuses on the two hyper-visible men of the twentieth century, Mahatma Gandhi and Chairman Mao, who had also been the object of Walter Bosshard’s fascination. It considers how these men have been transformed over the course of the last century through the work of 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, the talks seek 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.

About the speakers:

Barbara Mittler holds a Chair in Chinese Studies at the University of Heidelberg and is Co-Director of the Heidelberg Centre for Transcultural Studies (former Cluster of Excellence—Asia and Europe in a Global Context) and CATS, the Centre for Asian and Transcultural Studies. Her research focuses on cultural production in (greater) China covering a range of topics from music to visual and historical print media in China’s long modernity.

Sumathi Ramaswamy is James B. Duke Professor of History at Duke University and Co-Director of Duke’s India Initiative, and President of the American Institute of Indian Studies (2018- 2022). 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.

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