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Doctoral Project

Mimesis, Alterity and the Entangled Representations of Colonial Modernity in the Wall Paintings of Shekhawati
Saumya Agarwal (M.Phil.)

Shekhawati is an area in Rajasthan which is known for its painted towns. The havelis, mostly belonging to the Marwari community, are rich in wall paintings that depict scenes from Rajasthani life, local history, Hindu mythology, folk lore and amusing scenes of encounters with the ‘west’. The proliferation of the paintings started at the crucial moment when the Industrial Revolution started affecting the colonies, creating situations which parallel the effects of the Industrial Revolution in Europe, but in a mediated manner, creating a ‘modern’ particular to the colonies. It is this ‘colonial modernity’ and its visual representations that I seek to analyse, focussing primarily on frescoes from 1830 to 1930.
The Nineteenth century was a time of much cultural and technological change in India which led to the growth of a “new popular imagery” (to use Jyotindra Jain’s term) through the changing patterns of commodity consumption, establishing of art schools and a proliferation of European pictures through oleographs and lithographs. Many of the representations of the ‘west’ in the wall paintings are imitated from photographs and prints. This mimesis is also influenced by accounts of the Marwari patrons of their experiences and opinions of the ‘west’. The painters’ interpretations of these accounts resulted in quasi-mythical re-tellings, often executed in a ‘fantastical’ non-naturalistic fashion.
I believe that the depictions are both satirical, as well as accompanied with a sense of a wondrous looking at the ‘other’. Thus one can notice contrary forces at work where both ‘mimicry’ and ‘mockery’ create what Homi Bhabha calls a process of “colonial doubling”, and thus begins a process of representation that establishes as well as contests the colonizer’s authority. I seek to transculturally study the points of contact between Marwari identity, colonial hegemony and the asymmetries of interaction between the artists and the patrons in a caste based society, to understand the cultural alterities created through these representations of colonial modernity.

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