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B4 Transcultural Visuality (project completed)

Transcultural Visuality Learning Group

Coordination: Sumathi Ramaswamy, Barbara Mittler, Christiane Brosius


Transcultural Visuality Learning Group

Transcultural visual studies are emerging as a new challenging field within art history, globalisation and media studies. The term can be traced back to the interest attached to debates around ‘pictorial turn’ (W. J. T. Mitchell 1994) as well as ‘intervisuality’ (e.g. Mirzoeff 2001) or ‘interocularity’ (Mirzoeff 2000) as well as the role of media in migration and globalisation contexts. The role of images in the context of diverse cultural processes and historical phenomena is acknowledged yet, at the same time, it is still a marginal field within the Humanities.

The flow of images across geographical, cultural and disciplinary borders has become a centre-stage focus of attention, for instance, in the case of the Mohammad cartoon debate. Assuming that the flows are by no means symmetrical but are driven by varying forces, motivations and discourses, the aim is to address this transgressing mobility of images as a key challenge by tying it to current theoretical debates as well as concrete case studies deriving from the Cluster’s agenda and the group-members' own research.


The agenda of this learning group revolves around a systematic follow-up of questions related to the role of visuality and visual culture in the context of transcultural flows and asymmetries between Asia and Europe and within Asia. A core group of scholars from Heidelberg and abroad engage in key arenas of transcultural visual culture in terms of theory and methods within their research fields: "archiving practices" (2009); "icon: affect and spectacle" (2010); "colour: transculturality's sensoriums" (2011). They share an interest in overcoming Eurocentric concepts of looking at and researching ‘visuality’, emphasising the transcultural entanglements of images and image-related practices as they journey across the globe, history, media spaces and social contexts. The idea of the learning group is to address the structural anomaly of visual flows, to enable faculty to thoroughly discuss key issues related to the cluster and to learn from peers as well as experts in the field. Another aim is to engage, beyond the frame of the individual research questions, with given topics of the cluster, addressing concepts of publicity, media flows and shifts, migrating images and people.



The Workhops

B4, the “Transcultural Visuality Learning group”, rests on three pillars. First, it takes the shape of annual workshops at which key issues of transcultural visual culture are addressed in terms of theory and methods within and beyond each member's own research fields. The core members are joined by invited scholars and graduate students from Heidelberg University and elsewhere, and by external experts who attend and stimulate the particular topics of each of the annual workshops.<o:p></o:p>

Workshop No.1 "Archiving Practices". Heidelberg, March 9-13, 2009

Workshop No.2 "Icons: Spectacle and Affect". Delhi, February 17-21, 2010 

Workshop No.3 "Colours, Images, Materialities". Istanbul, June 2-5, 2011

The reading group

The Transcultural Visuality Learning Group also explores questions of visual flows and asymmetries in such a way that will enable its members to enrich their own research and engagement with visual culture and histories, and to stimulate ongoing discussions among members of the group and the Cluster as well as a larger interested audience from the fields of art history, history, anthropology and area studies. The objective of the learning group is to go beyond usual conference structures by meeting annually in a workshop context, which allows reading and discussing texts intensively in an interdisciplinary environment.

Database work and digital research architecture

A third core activity of B4 is its contribution to the digital research architecture developed by Heidelberg University (HRA). The project is particularly committed to building an extensive visual database, the “Transcultural Image Database”, to enrich both research and innovative teaching methods related to transculturality and new media technologies. The database not only digitizes various visual research materials but also annotates these materials with extensive metadata. In this, B4 has worked in particular on the improvement of the Heidicon image database by writing a standardised Metadata Manual, and on the development of a new visual database software, Tamboti, which is tailored to the project’s particular needs. Our new manual allows for a more profound inclusion of metadata and the exportation of the implemented information to the new software.


Finally, the Learning Group implements teaching units over the three years of the project phase. Group members also share their expertise and the knowledge acquired during the workshops in joint teachings for students, both at Heidelberg University and at external members’ institutions. A list of recently taught courses can be found here.


Summer School

In cooperation with the Chair for Visual and Media Anthropology B4 will organise the Summer School 2012:

"Seeing Matter(s): Materiality and Visuality" which takes place from Sunday, July 29, to Saturday, August 4, 2012.

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