South Asia

Organized Panel Session

3 - Aesthetics of World Making, Painted Canvas and Tales of Dowry

Saturday, July 7
2:40 PM - 4:10 PM
Location: Silveroak I, Ground Floor

In this paper, I seek to examine some of the ways in which justice is visualised or finds its voice, as it were, in the pictorial language of Maithil art, a folk painterly tradition practiced primarily by women in the Mithila region — a linguistic and cultural area broadly coinciding with a sizable portion of northern Bihar in India and the south-eastern part of Tarai in Nepal. The paper contemplates young women’s paintings on a specific form of matrimonial violence in India — the terrifying murder of brides by dousing them with kerosene and burning them alive for dowry. I engage with how young artists compose pictures of plural images of justice in the shadow of violence. Such picturization seldom derives their inspiration from the imagery enunciated by the state law in India. Even when the young painters do quote or tangentially allude to what some have called “law’s art”, their creative ways of depicting justice inhabit legally plural worlds, sometimes implying a renunciation of state law. In particular, I contemplate the startling and unfamiliar image of a mother-in-law as the object of a dowry death, which opens out a series of thoughts on how feminine justice finds visual languages. These painterly tales of violence offer powerful illustrations of a series of painting, which testify and witness violence, offering us an alternate visual form of “world building”.

Mani Shekhar Singh

University of Kentucky, India


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3 - Aesthetics of World Making, Painted Canvas and Tales of Dowry

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