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Congratulations are due to Dr des Marlène Harles, who successfully defended her doctoral thesis on 10th April 2019!


Harles' PhD thesis is entitled "Collectives, Localities, and Networks - A Translocal Approach to the Emerging Contemporary Art Field(s) of Nepal and Bangladesh". In it, she looks at a young generation of artists in Nepal and Bangladesh that push into 'new' spaces.  She shows that these artists claim a place in international art events. They foster exchange on multiple scales and across South Asia's contested socio-cultural and political borders, marked by colonialism and partition. They shape emerging formats such as public arts projects and festivals and they engage with spaces commonly not perceived as spaces of artistic production, such as the city's streets, public squares, or tight-knit neighborhoods. Thereby, they do not simply activate these versatile spaces as locales of artistic practice or display, but express a pronounced reflection about the various claims to 'locality' these spaces evoke.

PhD Candidates

Senior woman and younger friend discussing urban changes in the Kathmandu Valley (photo: R. Mandoki, 2014)

Roberta Mandoki, M.A.

PhD candidate, B19. Project start 04/2013

Ageing in Urban Nepal – Perspectives of Senior Citizens on Migration, Urbanization and Social Change

This subproject explores the changing perspectives on ageing in the middle-class in Kathmandu, emphasizing the rapid urban changes as well as shifting family structures as intergenerational relations are strongly influenced by the increasing migration within Nepal and abroad. Since a national social security scheme for senior citizens was introduced in the mid-1990’s age-related issues have entered the political agenda and have also become more visible in public discourse.

How do middle-class senior citizens perceive ageing in a developing, post-civil war country where poverty is a ubiquitous issue and politics continue to be unsteady? And in which ways are they influenced by the presence of international development organizations in Kathmandu and their long-term commitment in Nepal?

The research looks into how traditional notions of family and ageing as well as religious concepts on the life course meet with social change and ongoing migration. In Nepal, families have traditionally been living in a joint family system, and intergenerational relations have been shaped by patrilinearity and filial piety. Since many young Nepalese seek for better work or study prospects abroad, transnational family structures are on the rise, and alternative institutions for long-distance care such as old-age homes or day-care centers may increasingly be needed. Using ethnographic methods, the changes in the everyday life of the senior citizens and the increasing role of alternative social networks will be investigated.

The subproject also focuses on the specific situation of older persons in the urban environment of the Kathmandu Valley, and the influences of urbanization on their perspectives on ageing. Like many other urban areas in Asia, the Kathmandu Valley has changed dramatically during the last decades. The mainly unplanned growth and establishment of numerous new settlements has led to poor infrastructure and severe pollution. In the traditional Newari architecture of the Kathmandu Valley, public spaces such as open squares, temples and meeting places were an important part of town planning. These public spaces in the ancient Newari city centers are still widely used by the local population, but there is no equivalent common space to strengthen social ties in the later-built settlements. Using the example of a recently established Senior Citizens Day-Care Center, this subproject highlights the creation of new social institutions and the role of social commitment in the life of middle-class senior citizens.

This ethnographic case study will thus give insights on transcultural flows of age concepts and imaginaries exchanged between the Nepali society, international development agencies and the Nepali diaspora. Through its focus on migration and urbanization effects, it will add to a more diverse picture on ageing in Nepal.

© Machleetank 2007. Participants of the ‘Blank Noise’ project intervene to be idle in public. The action is done simultaneously across cities in India.

Lucie Bernroider, M.Phil.

PhD candidate. Project start 10/2013

Young, single women’s pursuits of an autonomous lifestyle in Delhi

Lucie’s PhD research is part of the HERA project SINGLE “Creating the ‘new Asian woman’: entanglements of urban space, cultural encounters and gendered identities in Shanghai and Delhi”. She traces young single women’s pursuits of an independent lifestyle in India’s rapidly changing capital city. Focusing primarily on young (upper) middle class women working in creative and media related fields and living apart from their families, her research explores the way gendered identities and inner city life are negotiated among a growing and diversifying urban middle-class. In a marriage centred society, that does not easily accommodate single women living outside of the parental household, gendered social expectations and norms are written into urban fabrics and come to shape everyday space use. The research project therefore further engages with the politics of urban space and looks at changes within Delhi’s cityscape. Some of Delhi’s urban villages - formerly rural settlements that have been incorporated into city limits in the course of ongoing urban expansion – hereby serve as empirical case studies, as they have emerged as cultural hubs, where low rents, a high degree of flexibility and resources from localised economies draw in a diverse crowd of newcomers, many of them single working women. Studying neighbourhood changes in these increasingly gentrifying spaces through the urban imaginaries and daily lifeworlds of women, recognizes them as creative forces within the city and offers a unique insight into the relations between urban development, cultural discourses and female subjectivities. As these women simultaneously represent a desired category in aspirational images of the World Class City (Phadke 2013, Srivastava 2014), their experiences and visions of urban life have to be further considered alongside other claims to space within Delhi’s contentious social landscape. Hence, the study presents a careful examination of the city’s affective geography and situates it within broader trans-local imaginaries as well as shifting notions of urban modernity. Lucie conducts her fieldwork in Delhi using a range of methods including participatory observation, sensory and visual ethnographic methods.

Learn to become a better self in Love Club, a love training course in Shanghai. Photo by Pi Chenying, 2014.

PI Chenying, M.A.

PhD candidate. Project start 12/2013

Subjectivities of Single Professional Women in Contemporary Shanghai

Chenying’s PhD research is part of the HERA project SINGLE “Creating the ‘new Asian woman’: entanglements of urban space, cultural encounters and gendered identities in Shanghai and Delhi”. In her project she will be exploring how young professional single women negotiate their subjectivities in contemporary Shanghai. Amid China’s multilayered and fast-paced social transformations, the emergence of large numbers of well-educated professional women delaying marriage in mega cities like Shanghai is firstly a disruption of deep-rooted conceptualizations of proper femininities and gender roles. At the same time, those single professional women also (imagine to) constitute the rising middle class in globalizing Shanghai/China. Therefore, this study will foreground the intersection of gender, class and ethnicity (Chineseness) in the negotiations of subjectivities among those single professional women through combining the methods of media analysis and ethnographic research. Their subjectivities will be untangled in four dimensions: 1) how they negotiate the self, i.e. what kind of self they aspire to be; 2) how they negotiate masculinities, i.e. what kind of men they desire; 3) how they negotiate their being in Shanghai, i.e. what the city means to them; 4) and how they negotiate their position in the society, i.e. what kind of citizen they are (to be). Through examining this particular social group’s perspectives, this project aims not to generalize the consequences of China’s economic developments, urbanization, and global entanglements, but rather to complex the picture and draw more attention to the ambiguities, contingencies, inconsistences and contradictions within.

Entrance to the Bangladesh Pavilion (Venice Biennale 2011), Photo by Marlène Harles

Marlène Harles, M.A. 

PhD candidate, GPTS, B20

Collectives, localities and networks in the emerging contemporary art scenes of Nepal and Bangladesh

In my PhD project, I focus on the transcultural relations between the contemporary art fields of Nepal and Bangladesh. My initial research highlights the recent mushrooming of artist-initiated groups and collectives in both countries as transcultural phenomenon that can be compared with and discussed in relation to more established groups in countries like India. I aim at understanding how these collectives shape the local contemporary art scenes. And more precisely, what role do collective effort and collaborative actions play in the development of a new generation of contemporary artists that is able to put a local landscape on a global map?

Compared to their economically emerging neighbors India and China, Bangladesh and Nepal have gained little attention within the contemporary art market and the academic disciplines, including the Anthropology of Art. Both countries have however, over the last couple of years, shown remarkable dynamics as emerging fields of art production. In 2011, the artist group ‘Britto’ secured Bangladesh’s first presence at the Venice Biennale. In collaboration with the Shilpakala Academy (an established national institutions for art in Bangladesh), the Samdani Art Foundation (a new non-profit art institution) organized the country’s first Art Summit in 2012, in response to Delhi’s annual India Art Fair, and translocally connected to the Kathmandu International Art Festival (KIAF). Alongside these ‘international’ events, local artist initiatives increasingly foster exchange within and between national borders through regular artist talks, workshops and residencies, in sometimes intensely intertwined, sometimes disconnected realms. 

My project tries to both open up the methodological and theoretical scope of Art and Anthropology and to acknowledge the new, vibrant efforts in an emerging inner-Asian field. In order to achieve my research aim, I focus on five concepts: localities, institutions, events, networks and agents. The latter will constitute the red thread that ties the other concepts together. Each locality consists of a distinct set of characteristics that influences and is constantly renegotiated by its inhabitants; artists are no exception. In Bangladesh and Nepal, the historical background, and mostly the fight for independence and self-determination are deeply anchored in the everyday life. It is a topic frequently addressed by artist in their work. In fact, the incorporation of socio-cultural issues has become an intrinsic part of contemporary art practice and finds different articulations in each locality; in Nepal for example street art has become a collective tool to claim the city, an attempt to counteract the rapid changing urban landscape.

Institutions play an important role in forming artists and framing their work. Universities deliver degrees that qualify the student to create ‘Fine Art’. Institutions like the National Academy of Fine and Performing Arts (Shilpakala) in Bangladesh and the National Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) in Nepal once created to act as public intermediators between the government and the countries’ art scene, but today often criticized for their lack of real support. More and more private initiatives and artist-led groups take up the formation of artists by offering workshops, residencies and platforms for exchange. Exhibition spaces, galleries and museums further frame art within certain categories (contemporary, modern, traditional).

Events (from international festivals to gallery openings and workshops) constitute a place where the global and the local art discourse are negotiated. They illustrate current trends, such as the proliferation of performance art and address critical issues such as the translatability of art and the necessity for ‘visual literacy’ versus the idea of an ‘international language of art’. They further show the importance of digital networks (e.g. facebook) in marketing these events and they indicate processes of urban development, practices of community building and the flow of ideas/objects.

As metaphor and analytical tool, networks offer insights into various levels of exchange. There is a global system connecting galleries, managers, artists, curators, collectors and art writers from different art worlds. There is also a very private network based on daily ‘face-to-face’ interaction and there are formally initiated networks such as SANA, the South Asian Network of Art. Focusing on networks enables me to better grasp ideas of reciprocity, intensity, durability, direction and density between the different nodes of the network in and between Bangladesh and Nepal.

Village Diorama, Indian Museum

Martijn de Rooij,  M.A.

PhD candidate, GPTS

Shifting Art Frames in Kolkata

Kolkata, the capital of West-Bengal, harbors a variety of exhibition spaces for the visual arts. The Indian Museum (1814), the 2014 planned Kolkata Museum of Modern Art (KMOMA), and a variety of smaller museums, galleries, art schools, and private collections form a field of cultural production that frame art into segmented categories. These frames, such as “ethnographic”, “modern”, “contemporary” and “Bengali”, are translations and transformations of Euro-American museological infrastructures that inscribe a hierarchy of value on different kinds of art. Dichotomies between art and artifact have been contested, but institutional framings of different art forms are often taken for granted. Instead of assuming that museums are universal and audiences everywhere think alike, or conversely, making a division between ‘European’ or ‘Indian’ ways of seeing, I want to approach art spaces and practices as open-ended transcultural contact zones. To explore Kolkata’s art frames this PhD project will focus on: (A) A provincialization of Euro-American museum models: This involves treating museum practices as material and ideational transcultural exchanges with particular histories. What were the contexts of collecting, how were objects circulated throughout Europe and Asia, and in what ways did these collections create different spatial and temporal imaginaries? (B) An ethnographic exploration of Kolkata’s art frames: How do Kolkata’s current art frames invite ways of seeing for imagining or debating the past, future, and present? How do different groups experience and interact with different art frames? Do they seek critical contemplation or distraction, self-identification or cultural othering, or simply refuges from everyday life? Where do the artistic intentions or political messages of the artists, curators, and audiences intersect, and where do they diverge? (C) A collaboration with Kolkata’s contemporary artists: The lines drawn by Kolkata’s institutes are relatively sharp and leave little room for formal innovation, while, on the other hand, Kolkata is known for its historical subversive art practices defying institutionalized framings and transcultural asymmetries. Participant observation of contemporary art practices gives me the opportunity to see how the boundaries of exhibition spaces are rejected, accepted, or realigned.

Self-portrait of Juan José de Jesús Yas. © Fototeca Guatemala, CIRMA. Colección: Archivo del Estudio Fotografía Japonesa.

Ping-Heng Chen, M.A.

PhD candidate, GPTS. Project start 10/2013


Japanese Photography in Guatemala: Transcultural Visuality and the Migrant Life of Yasu Kohei

As social documents and products of a unique history, photographic archives have drawn the attention of recent scholarship. They are the focus of analytic concerns such as the asymmetry of power relations and the usage of visual materials in the context of the construction of a social memory. My project intersects these concerns to study the life and photographic work of Yasu Kohei (屋須弘平 1846-1917, also known by the Spanish name Juan José de Jesús Yas), the first Japanese migrant to Guatemala, and to investigate the politics and aesthetics of the creation and reception of a migrant's photographic archive in both the home and the host societies.

Yasu Kohei’s migrant life was part of the global intellectual network that connected Asia, Europe, and Latin America in the late 19th century. Living a drastic change of socio-political scenery upon arriving in Guatemala, Yasu dedicated himself to Catholicism and photography, yet remained involved in the political affairs of his home country. In the 1980s, his work was collected into the Archivo del Estudio Fotografía Japonesa of the Center for Mesoamerican Research in La Antigua Guatemala. Today, this archive constitutes an important element within the diplomatic and cultural relations between Guatemala and Japan. Based on this collection, I examine Yasu’s work and trace its trajectory into the diverse present venues of which it is a part.

With this project I aim to comprehend the ways in which individual migrants act as nodes within transcultural flows of knowledge and images, and the relevance of migrant photographs in a variety of contexts of knowledge production. The examination of the elements that converge in Yasu’s photographs and its reception throws into relief the understudied connections between Asia and Latin America. The analysis of contemporary contextualizations of his oeuvre will highlight the significant role played by archival photographs in the construction of a social memory of migration.

Film Screenshot of Kathmandu in Dr Strange (2016) /Photograph: Marvel Studios


Dikshya Karki, M.A.

PhD candidate, GPTS. Project B20 Rethinking Art

Cinematic Kathmandu

The project traces the emergence of a 'cinematic Kathmandu' through the study of films made against the backdrop of rapid urbanisation and social change in the Kathmandu Valley. It maps the evolution of an urban space as filmed through the 'affective response' of the film’s characters to the city.  

Despite being a city of failed infrastructures, Kathmandu functions as the central economic joint of Nepal and a viable transit point for migrant workers traveling to the Gulf countries or the 'first world' for employment. While its population meets the metropolitan mark, its resources do not. The repeated promises by Nepali politicians to model it like Singapore and other financial capitals around the world references a certain kind of Asian urbanism and power (Roy & Ong, 2011) that characterizes Nepal’s own state of ‘transition’ and ‘quest for modernity’. 

As ‘tourists’ and ‘western scholars’ continue to admire the city for its medieval architecture, mystic and religious façade, urban sprawl (Sengupta & Bhattarai Upadhyaya, 2016) gives it an everyday physical transformation. While its middle class inhabitants and youth with an exposure to consumer culture and mass media redefine the experience of being modern (Liechty, 2003). The city’s cosmopolitan character also benefits both its residents and filmmakers.  Some work as ‘flexible citizens.’ Their political, social and cultural experiences are feeding into the creation of a cinematic body of work which is a response to and engagement with their urban surroundings. The project then explores this trajectory of Nepali film production through translocal modes that influence it.


Julie Pusch, M.A.

PhD candidate

Indian work migration to Germany

 Julie Pusch studied Geography and Anthropology at the University of Heidelberg and received her M.A. degree in 2014. In her Master thesis, she looked at the professional perspectives of spouses of Indian work migrants having settled in Germany.

Since June 2016, Julie Pusch is a PhD candidate in Anthropology under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Christiane Brosius. In her dissertation, she deepens her research on Indian work migration to Germany and will investigate notions of mobility and embeddedness by looking at digital practices and interactions with the local(e) among Indian migrants settled in Munich.



Former PhD candidates

Cathrine Bublatzky

Laila Abu-Er-Rub

Marie Sander

Sinah Kloß

Lisa Caviglia

Eva Ambos

Hsin-Yi Li

Annika Mayer