ASA12: Arts and aesthetics in a globalising world

Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India, 3rd-6th April 2012

(P44)

Cosmopolitanism, politics, and the (performing) arts

Location Arts and Aesthetics Auditorium
Date and Start Time 04 April, 2012 at 15:00

Convenors

Georgiana Gore (Blaise Pascal University Clermont-Ferrand) email
Andree Grau (University of Roehampton) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

This panel explores aesthetic cosmopolitanism. It questions whether intercultural appreciation and circulation of artistic practice are the product of western hegemonic canons (perspective, the proscenium stage, disciplinary bodily techniques...) and their rapid spread through globalisation.

Long Abstract

If the cosmopolitan is understood as that which is of the world - in other words that which is free from national, regional or local limitations and prejudices - how might we think of cosmopolitanism in relation to aesthetics? The history of the arts testifies to the existence of "masterpieces" with universal aesthetic appeal, not only because of their commercial value or status as fashion icons, but because they seemingly engage with "universal truths". In literature, Soyinka and Tagore won the Nobel Prize, Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart and Salman Rushdie's Midnight Children are references for understanding transition and change in the colonial/postcolonial worlds. In the performing arts, Shakespeare's plays, kathakali, bharatanatyam tour internationally, while hip hop, flamenco, and tango are practised daily across the globe. What enables these aesthetic genres to traverse cultural boundaries and gain universal acclaim? Is it merely the globalisation of Western canons of artistic creation and of capitalist production and circulation that creates the frame for intercultural dialogue? Is the distinction between genres of cosmopolitanism useful: for example, between "elite" cosmopolitanism referring to pre- and post-independence aesthetics produced by the aristocracy of former colonies, and "subaltern" cosmopolitanism referring to the popular aesthetics of Bollywood, salsa, or rap? Do we need to rethink cosmopolitanism beyond any opposition between high and low art, hegemonic constructions, and so on? Proposals engaging with these issues or others such as artistic pillaging or cosmopolitanisation through, for example, UNESCO's conventions on 'masterpieces' and intangible cultural heritage are welcome.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Flash mob dance: Embodied cosmopolitanism in the age of digital communication networking

Author: Georgiana Gore (Blaise Pascal University Clermont-Ferrand)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper, I shall explore, through mainly online ethnography, how flash mob dancing constitutes a form of embodied cosmopolitanism since performance enables participants to be involved in a singular event and simultaneously to connect to the global through online broadcasting on You Tube and identification with an international genre.

Long Abstract

Transcending the divides of race, class, and nation and blurring the boundaries between the political and the commercial, flash mob dancing may be conceived as a truly cosmopolitan postcolonial dance genre in that it takes place in urban sites across the world. Through the collective performance of apparently spontaneous choreography, it emerges in public places as unplanned spectacle, creating its own stage through disrupting the quotidian. In this paper, I shall explore, through mainly online ethnography, how flash mob dancing constitutes a form of embodied cosmopolitanism since performance enables participants to be involved in a singular event and simultaneously to connect to the global through online broadcasting on You Tube and identification with an international genre. Through a detailed analysis of the dynamics of flash mob dancing, which transforms the crowd into spectators and the humdrum into an event, I shall address the idea that there may be a transcultural aesthetics of the event, not determined by the constraints of Western hegemonic canons.

The popular meets the classical: New cosmopolitanism in Hip-hop's dialogue with Kathak

Author: Stacey Prickett (University of Roehampton)  email

Short Abstract

New conceptualisations of cosmopolitanism are explored in Kathakbox by Birmingham’s Sonia Sabri Company, moving beyond a performative ‘otherness’ through use of popular (hip-hop) and classical (kathak) dance styles to challenge hegemonic representations of race, religion and nationality.

Long Abstract

South Asian classical dance kathak has become an increasingly globalised form in part via interactions with hip-hop and other dance styles. Ethnographic and dance analysis supports interrogation of diverse ways in which the diasporic dance challenges conventional cosmopolitan constructs in Britain and abroad. Birmingham-based Sonia Sabri blurs boundaries in innovative community-based projects while the Kathakbox collaborative production mixes beatbox and spoken word with tabla to produce innovative soundscores for a movement dialogue between kathak, hip-hop, contemporary and African-Caribbean dance styles. Sabri's 'urban kathak' presents a globalised production that transcends sub-cultural identity markers. Associated outreach projects link the dance sources to individual narratives of marginalised communities with which they engage, contesting media representations of alterity while offering alternative and transformative modes of expression. Counter-hegemonic in multiple ways, project-related workshops with Muslim women move beyond 'tick box' funding and political agendas, challenging preconceptions around race and faith as strategies evolve to negotiate cultural imperatives around representation of the body. Kathakbox workshops in Abu Dhabi and Dubai offer diverse geopolitical contexts for exploring such cultural negotiations while engagement with the popular (hip-hop) offers points of connection which supports an exploration of the classical form of kathak. The investigation is informed by Claire Dwyer's (1997, 2004) research into negotiating diasporic British Muslim identities and Judith Hamera's (2007) conceptualisations of dance technique as bodily inscription, situated in relation to reconceptualisations of cosmopolitan discourse as articulated by Gita Rajan and Shailja Sharma in New Cosmopolitans (2006).

Cosmopolitanism and hegemony: the forging of new tastes in India

Author: Kalpana Ram (Macquarie University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper seeks to argue for a version of caste and class formation which is consonant with cosmopolitanism.

Long Abstract

The contributions of pioneers in the revival and revisions of the performing arts in India were often perceived, even at the time, as a Brahmanisation of the arts. This was a sharp perception especially in south India in the context of an anti Brahman movement. Newer evaluations have sought to soften this perception by emphasising the new cosmopolitanism of key revivalists and their ability to communicate to a broad audience. This paper seeks to argue for a version of caste and class formation which is not the opposite of cosmopolitanism but where a broadening of the social base is a necessary part of the emergence of new bourgeois forms of taste for the national elite in India.

The paper will begin with the figure of Rukmini Devi who has been at the centre of the interpretation I seek to contest. The unique nature of the "classical" performing arts in India lies not only in their international success in claiming to "represent" India, but in gathering to themselves a whole range of other aspects of a revitalised tradition such as handicrafts, jewellery and textiles. What we are actually exploring is the wider realm of tastes in fashion and bodily dimensions of comportment, especially for middle class women.

Mrinali Sarabhai, nationalism, and cosmopolitan aesthetic

Author: Andree Grau (University of Roehampton)  email

Short Abstract

The paper examines the artistic cosmopolitanism of dancer-choreographer Mrinalini Sarabhai and her engagement with social movements in India prior to and after independence. It shows how with her husband the scientist Vikram Sarabhai they promoted a new India marrying modernity and tradition.

Long Abstract

Mrinalini Sarabhai, née Swaminathan, (1918- ) came from a highly educated, multi-lingual, well travelled, and wealthy background. Members of her family engaged in politics and were freedom fighters. She studied with Rabindranath Tagore and was deeply influenced by his cosmopolitanism. In 1942 she married Vikram Sarabhai and joined one of the wealthiest and influential families at the time in India. Whilst the marriage crossed geographical and linguistic boundaries, it was endogamous in terms of social, political, and intellectual class. Her dance education was eclectic: she trained with canonical gurus but she thought many traditional dancers were rather coarse and slightly vulgar, not having the grace, beauty, and taste she was looking for. Others saw her as an innovator and India celebrated her for her "creative" dance, yet felt she engaged with a "pure" classical tradition, while choreographing works dealing with social injustices. Being wealthy she was able to control her creative work, have her own theatre, dancers and musicians, and tour the world with her company largely in her own terms, rather than following governmental agendas. She was accepted on an equal footing with the greatest western artists, dancing on revered dance stages in Europe, usually to great acclaim. The paper will engage with Sarabhai's "elite" cosmopolitan aesthetics examining the pre- and post-independence works she created at a time dance was being questioned in India and the "classical" heritage was contested territory. It will examine in what ways her work fitted the nationalist agenda and when she departed from it.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.