ASA12: Arts and aesthetics in a globalising world

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


Shards of memory: memorials, commemorations, remembrance

Location Convention Centre Lecture Hall-I
Date and Start Time 04 April, 2012 at 08:30


Radhika Chopra (University of Delhi) email
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Short Abstract

Memorials, commemorations, and remembrance about dark histories are riddled with politics in a social present. The visual becomes a critical field in organising memories of turmoil, in and through rituals of remembrance that surround physical objects like monuments, museums, shrines and cenotaphs.

Long Abstract

Dreadful times produce special stories. Even when remembrance of a dark past is a burden too heavy, stories told in different narrative and visual modes enable groups to recall some of the details of dread while simultaneously burying other aspects of their dark histories. Monuments, museums, shrines, cenotaphs and rituals around them become set apart and sacred objects because they represent a place to recall the past and in the telling and re-telling of what they are about, they enable different memories and forms of remembrance.

The panel will focus on contemporary political turmoil and the politics of remembrance. Precisely because conflicts are thought of in the present continuous, the 'past' is a fluid terrain; but it is exactly this 'fluid' character of a not-quite-past event that generates different modes and sites of remembrance and commemoration, ranging from the seemingly 'temporary' and impermanent roadside shrines to more enduring modes of the museum. Events, people, and political identities may be remembered through a series of different memorials, spread across space. Each may present the facade of completeness but in fact be a fragment, a shard that emerges as connected or contested within different modes and politics of remembrance.

The intent of the panel is to explore the 'claims' to tell stories about events, mourn people or assert identity through representing the past in the present.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Mahteen Mai Ka Mandir: Gender, Caste and Contested History in Rural Bihar

Author: Sumit Srivastava (University of Allahabad)  email

Short Abstract

The present paper locates Mahteen Mai ka Mandir, a temple in rural Bihar as a case of reclaiming the past taking caste and gender as important factors. How do the people who are associated with it in the present times analyse and debunk 'other's history is the essence of this paper.

Long Abstract

The present times are times of understanding the history in a different way than has been the practice. It is so because the voices of the periphery have become too loud to be ignored. The physical symbols of dominance are being questioned once more and are being given a new meaning to it. Gender is an important tool to re-draw the maps of understanding. The way women are projected in any community becomes the bench mark of the latter. The present paper explores the multiple ways in which Mahteen Mai ka Mandir, a temple in rural Bihar is seen. The dominant section sees it as a place of worshiping woman who attained 'sainthood' resisting sexual assault whereas the subaltern see this temple as a manifestation of ritual sanction of dalit women's sexuality. In present times, it has become both as a symbol of assertion and tyranny. Both the groups use popular culture to forward and cement their respective arguments. Street plays, folk songs, pamphlets in local languages are potent tools for forwarding own version of history. As gender has been often seen as barometer of caste and community identities, such discourses are often marked by violence. Both the communities intend to present its womenfolk in pristine form. The paper argues that both the dominant and the subaltern use this 'contested site of history' as the successive generations of both groups have 'invented' and 'reinvented' the history many times. Thus, Mahteen Mai ka Mandir still oscillates between myth and history.

The Widow of the Martyr

Author: Soibam Haripriya (Delhi School of Economics)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the ways of memorialising by entering into/acquiring pre-existing meanings as well as resisting and creating news ones. Through two figures -the 'martyr' and his 'widow' I look at ways of remembering the 'martyr' and the present self of the subject as a witness

Long Abstract

"Widow" or "widowhood" and its representation in symbols is a visible part of our everyday. Beginning with the symbolic representation of widowhood in the breaking of bangles in Bollywood movies with the image always bordering on atrocious even tacitly suggesting the complicity of the woman. Indeed active encouragement of dis-adornment seems to be one of the first acts committed to a woman who has lost her husband. What I am trying to draw through the paper not only the idea of 'widowhood' and 'martyrs' in the context of military violence and the interplay of gender between these two symbols but also of how the martyr is remembered by his widow. Through two figures, that of the 'martyr' and 'widow' I am attempt to bring up the self referential way of not only being the widow of a 'martyr' but also posing herself in different ways of looking. I intend to do this by choosing the figure of a woman who is neither a widow nor according to her, married to the man who is her present husband. How the subject enters into and acquire pre-existing meanings and also resist them to create news ones though at the same time drawing from the existing arrays of symbols of memorialisation is explored.

Displacing Commemoration: memory work and spatial and performative politics among Kashmiri Pandits in Jammu and Kashmir

Author: Ankur Datta (South Asian University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores commemoration in the case of displaced Kashmiri Hindus who recreate the past by constructing replicas of Hindu shrines from Kashmir. Through an ethnographic engagement with these replicas I argue that such projects are symbols of the future related to a new political community.

Long Abstract

Questions of memory among have often emerged in studies of forced migrants. This paper seeks to discuss the ways forced migrants express their history in public through the prism of commemoration by taking the case of the Hindu minority of Kashmir, better known as the Kashmiri Pandits. Following the outbreak of conflict in the Kashmir valley in Indian administered Jammu and Kashmir, the Kashmiri Pandits were displaced from their homes seeking shelter in cities such as Jammu and New Delhi where they have lived since.

Since their displacement different groups of Kashmiri Pandits have engaged in projects to construct replicas of Hindu shrines from Kashmir. These projects are carried out to ostensibly preserve traditions and allow a way for displaced Pandits to visit sites they are otherwise unable to due to the current conflict in Kashmir. By focusing on one particular replica in Jammu, I will discuss the politics around these shrines. While the shrines are regarded as symbols of a lost past being recovered, many Pandits regard the replica as an insufficient substitute, remaining 'artificial' as opposed to the 'original' shrine in Kashmir. The experiences of the replica also contrast with personal memories of visiting the original shrine in Kashmir. Hence this paper suggests that acts of commemoration are subject to contestation within a community. They are not symbols of a past, but rather are symbols of a future and must be seen as tentative attempts to produce a new sense of political community.

Heroic Memories:the inscription of power and gender into social memory through virakals

Author: Malavika Binny (Jawaharlal Nehru University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper seeks to explore the complex intersticing of power, memory and gender through an analysis of the virakals (hero-stones) which are found along the western coast of India and also in Tamil Nadu. . It will be argued that the hero stones were not merely sepulchral in character, but were nodes in a larger network of ritual and societal practices using literary evidence as well as ethno-archaeological and historical evidence.

Long Abstract

There has recently been an increased engagement with time and memory in archaeology, often responding to related debates in the social sciences , especially as a response to practice theories which emphasize the embodied nature of power through the internalization of daily social and ritual practices. This paper seeks to explore the complex intersticing of power, memory and gender through an analysis of the virakals (hero-stones) which are found along the western coast of India and also in Tamil Nadu. The virakals have been suggested to be the product of the 'heroic society' which existed in South India in the Early Historic period. These were monuments erected to commemorate heroes and seem to have, played a seminal role in the creation and reinforcement of certain gender ideologies through crystallizing the societal ideal of a hero. It will be argued that the hero stones were not merely sepulchral in character, but were nodes in a larger network of ritual and societal practices using literary evidence from the Early Historic (Sangam) texts as well as from ethno- archeological and inscriptional evidence. The creation of social memory through embodied practice of worshiping the hero-stones, which was subsequently used to legitimize a certain conceptualization of masculinity and femininity and in subversion and transgression using the same medium of monumentalisation is also sought to be explored. In sum, the paper will attempt to understand the negotiation of gender and by extension power through the medium of social memory by a multi disciplinary approach using historical, archaeological, anthropological insights and evidences.

Composing the memory: N T Rama Rao and Performing Identity

Author: Santhosh Kumar Sakhinala  email

Short Abstract

Focusing on the statues installed by the founder of Telugu Desam Party N T Rama Rao in Hyderabad, this paper engages with how memory and past is configured in the present, for the contemporary politics, through monuments and particularly statues.

Long Abstract

Statuary has been one of the significant means of remembering the past and the persons from history in the present. Statue involves a complex layering of history of the past times and the biographical image of the respective person represented. Here two discourses of representation intersect - visual and political, thus turning statue into a complex 'text'. This paper engages with one monumental project conceived and executed by N T Rama Rao (NTR) on Tank Bund of Hussain Sagar Lake in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh. N T Rama Rao was a Telugu star-hero turned politician, established the regional political party named Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in 1983 and became Chief Minister in 1984. NTR invoked the notion of 'Telugu Pride' and 'self respect', and emerged as a self proclaimed saviour of Telugu people. Through these symbolic frames NTR had imagined to consolidate a unified and utopian Telugu identity. As a part of such an effort he executed a megalomaniac project of installing statues of thirty three 'Telugu Luminaries' on the Tank Bund in the capital city Hyderabad. These personalities belonged to different times, identities and sub-regions correlating to different trajectories of history. This paper attempts to understand how past gets reconstructed through a regionalist political ideology, the image of NTR and how it interacts with the space through statues.

'It's not my story to tell': violence, memory and story-telling in Mocimboa da Praia, Mozambique

Author: Ana Margarida Sousa Santos (Durham University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores memories and counter-memories of the liberation struggle (1964-1974) in northern Mozambique, and the ways in which these are brought to the forefront at times of political and social tension.

Long Abstract

Following contested local elections in 2005, the district of Mocimboa da Praia in Northern Mozambique was shaken by sudden riots. The local tensions leading up to the violence were discussed with reference to politics, ethnicity and differing group allegiances and experiences during the liberation struggle (1964-1974), which was fought largely in Northern Mozambique. The different experiences of the war were alluded to during discussions of the riots and suggested explanations for past and present group dynamics. Diverse experiences of/responses to colonialism were pointed to as a possible reason for present day grievances, along with political affiliation. Here I will discuss the importance of collective memory, violence and public celebrations in the narrative around past and present events. I will discuss the symbolic representation of war, the official narrative of the past, and local counter-memories.

Based on fieldwork conducted in Northern Mozambique, drawing on participant observation of public celebrations and extensive interviews with Makonde veterans (male and female) of the liberation struggle, and with Mwani who lived in Portuguese controlled towns, I will discuss the importance of commemoration, memory and story telling in the understanding of past. I will also address tensions surrounding questions of belonging, expressed through claiming or refusing ownership of local histories.

(Un)witnessing the Event: Testimony as Poesis

Author: Debaditya Bhattacharya (Jawaharlal Nehru University)  email

Short Abstract

Taking the Holocaust as a symptom-event of traumatic-testimony, this paper seeks to explore ways in which the witness-account can no longer be considered an act of mimetic historiography but of active poesis.

Long Abstract

The essence of the testimonial act lies in its imperative to "tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth" of history; the desire to return to the historical 'time past' from the pledge of a 'real' present: "jo bhi kahunga sach kahunga, sach ke siwa kuch nahin kahunga." The 'truth' or the 'sach', as pronounced in the oath, is "one" and irreducible to another, just as the bearer of this truth - as Elie Wiesel would write - can only be the teller of it:

"Not to tell, or to tell another story, is… to commit perjury."

Testimonies, whether recorded or scripted, have come to serve as documentary proof in favour of the 'real' event in time. The witness-agent has assumed the role of mimetically enabling an access to the 'lost' moment in history.

That the testimonial performance can yet, in two different ways, turn the victim-witness into not a historian but an 'author' is what I set out to prove. Consequently, I would show how, with repeated tellings, the memory of the 'actual' event gives way to 'authored' accounts of the same - till what they testify to is an absence of the event. I take as my analytical touchstone the 1985 film by Claude Lanzmann, Shoah. While, on the one hand, my thesis consists in making visible the arbitrariness of theoretical claims about the event of trauma testimony, it is also an attempt to re-evaluate the testimonial speech-act as being more disruptively 'literary' than the commonsensical discipline of literature-as-fiction.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.