by Nadini Thilak, Heidelberg Centre for Transcultural Studies, Heidelberg University / Linden-Museum, Stuttgart
Dear Prof. Dr. Monica Juneja,
On your 65th birth year, I want to thank you for your scholarship and generosity, which have been guiding lights leading many a graduate student (not least me) out of the thickets. Here is to celebrating your next birthday.
In my doctoral thesis, which is centred on women patrons of architecture, I use early nineteenth-century records to trace the actors, processes, and networks that constituted architectural patronage in early modern Jodhpur. A close reading of sources from the period demonstrates that prolific female patrons of architecture from the kingdom’s royal zenana or harem were able to erect monumental architecture only with the hard-won cooperation of a large array of agents within and outside Jodhpur, among them skilled artisanal groups, suppliers, supervisors, architects, genealogists, zenana staff and so on. Evidence from Jodhpur demonstrates that agency, especially in architectural production, is better understood as a diffused or distributed phenomenon, wielded simultaneously, if not in equal measure, by multiple actors operating within dynamic networks rather than certain subject positions (such as architect or patron) that art history has historically privileged. Such an understanding owes much to a transcultural perspective on art history, especially Monica Juneja’s critique of style and style-based evolutionary classificatory regime.[i]Continue reading “The Patron’s Hand: Murals from a Queen’s Temple in Jodhpur”
I “met” Monica, first, as the author of “Reclaiming the Public Sphere: Husain’s Portrayals of Saraswati and Draupadi,” a compact and astute art historical commentary on the accusations of obscenity that were lodged by Hindu nationalist agitators against Indian artist M. F. Husain, beginning in 1996.[i] A graduate student in anthropology, I was interested in visual culture as public culture—as a site of debate and contestation, and of complex and layered signs—and in Hindu nationalism. By the time I got to them around 3-4 years later, the attacks on Husain were a kind of classic of the Hindutva genre. They had been preceded by several similar, if less spectacular campaigns and followed by a constant stream of what we can anachronistically recognize as culture-war clickbait. Husain was a nearly perfect target: he was wealthy but approachable, a prominent supporter of the Congress party, and among the most famous Muslim public figures outside of Bollywood. Whether the nature of his artistic work was one of the attractions for the Hindutvavadis—followers of the ideology that underpins Hindu nationalism—was cause for significant debate. And it was that conversation in which Monica’s piece intervened. Continue reading “Pragmatism and Steel: For Monica”
by Miriam Oesterreich, Universität der Künste Berlin, and Moritz Schwörer, Heidelberg University
Der Beginn unserer Arbeit im Worlding Public Cultures-Projekt (WPC) am Lehrstuhl von Monica Juneja fiel in eine Zeit voller Neuerungen. Nicht nur für uns – eine neue Arbeitsstelle bringt schließlich immer viel Unbekanntes mit sich –, sondern für den gesamten universitären Betrieb. Denn unsere Verträge galten ab März bzw. April 2020 und COVID-19 entwickelte sich in dieser Zeit zu einer Pandemie. Als Heidelberger WPC-Team konnten wir noch ein erstes und vorerst letztes Treffen abhalten, an dem fast alle Mitglieder teilnahmen, bevor von solchen Zusammenkünften ab dem 15. März abgeraten wurde: „Internal meetings also should be cancelled or transferred to telephone or video conferencing unless they are of utmost importance for the continuation of the regular working of the institutions.“ Unser neuer Arbeitsplatz war von nun an also das Home Office und zu unserem bevorzugten Kommunikationsweg wurde zwangsläufig die Videokonferenz.
Im Gegensatz zu vielen anderen hatten wir allerdings das Glück, dass Videokonferenzen schon einige Monate zuvor in unser Leben getreten waren: Als globales Projekt basierte WPC von Beginn an auf regelmäßigen virtuellen Treffen aller Mitglieder, an denen auch wir schon seit Dezember 2019 teilgenommen hatten. Der Schock des Neuen hatte uns somit schon etwas früher getroffen – „30 Teilnehmer*innen in einer Videokonferenz und es klappt! Wahnsinn!“ – und wir mussten nicht gänzlich unvorbereitet in die Welt von Zoom, WebEx, Teams, Skype und Co starten. Die Unsicherheit und die Aufregung, in die leblose Leere des Bildschirms aber dennoch zu einer größeren virtuellen Menschenansammlung zu sprechen, hatte sich daher für uns schon teilweise gelegt. Die Situation führte uns auch zum kollaborativen Denken und Schreiben, und wir nutzen hierfür radikale Assoziativität als Methode, um den verzweigten Spuren in unsere(n) Home Offices zu folgen. Continue reading “Home Office-Ästhetiken: Ein Blogbeitrag”
Before starting my PhD at Heidelberg University, I had been a literary studies scholar. For my PhD, I chose to research the wall paintings of Shekhawati in Rajasthan. Unsure of which academic discipline this research should be pursued under, I was guided by Professor Monica Juneja, who encouraged me to conduct this study under the aegis of transcultural studies, supporting me by graciously accepting a student with no prior training in art history. True to the theoretical aspects of transculturality, her guidance allowed me to create research that is not neatly contained within the analytical and methodological boundaries that define disciplines.
Her own scholarship has been instrumental in familiarizing me not only with art historical analytical frameworks but the possibility of analysing the visual with and beyond these frames.
I am immensely grateful to Monica.[i] Her conceptualizations of what transcultural art history is and does have been deeply formative for me, and I would not be where I am today without her continuous support. Thank you for that, for the numerous inspiring exchanges, and for your friendship!
I first met Monica when I was still a graduate student. I was working on a Ph.D. thesis that sought to critically expand mainstream contemporary art discourse in a global framework through the lens of contemporary Chinese art. Based on my expertise in art history and Sinology, and equipped with tools of post-colonial theory I adopted a bottom-up approach on the global, hoping to offer new insights into how installation art in China had been constituted through regionally specific yet transculturally entangled narratives and aesthetic idioms of art. In so doing, I sought to provincialize the universalized Euro-American aesthetic narrative of installation art as challenging modernist medium specificity, conceptualize cultural difference as performatively negotiated, and engaged in creating a critical awareness of the transcultural complexity of contemporary art. Continue reading “A Tribute to Monica – Practicing Transcultural Art History: “The ability to navigate multiple scales””
by Margrit Pernau, Max Planck Institute for Human Development Berlin
Buildings are more than mere stone and concrete; their design shapes the encounters taking place within and around them, while they, in turn, become infused with the memories of these encounters. The India International Centre is one such space, and as so many other South Asia academics, Monica Juneja and I have spent many hours there, sipping tea in the lounge or sitting outside, exchanging the latest news, or planning new activities. Our conversations were always punctuated by friends and acquaintances passing by nodding their greetings or joining us, the rule limiting the number of chairs you are allowed to pull to your table gently enforced by the staff. We have shared many meals in the dining hall and the buffets that accompanied conferences and seminars there, and, of course, participated in the formal and informal discussions of these academic events.
I am not sure when I started to think that something was fundamentally awry in U.S. mainstream politics, but it was the impetus for my current book project. The following remarks adapted from that work in progress are my tribute to Professor Monica Juneja whose leadership on pivoting the focus of art history from a national culture model to one that stresses transcultural processes has been effective institutionally and inspirational to many students and colleagues, myself included.[i]
One watershed event that stands out for me is the horrifying moment when the ‘Pussy Tapes’ appeared and the Republican Party maintained its support of Trump’s candidacy for President anyway. This betrayal of all women is etched in my consciousness because that day I had to meet my undergraduate seminar, consisting mostly of women about to graduate, and I could not wrap my head around the fact that a major political party in the United States was supporting such a gross display of sexism and misogyny. Nor could I stay silent. I am now writing post-retirement from my tenured university position with new-found freedom as an independent scholar. The sorry history of racial violence and injustice in the United States is front and center today, on the first-year commemoration of the murder of George Floyd by a police officer and exactly one century after the long-suppressed Tulsa, Oklahoma, Race Massacre in 1921. At the same time, in Brazil, in Monica’s India, Covid-19 is raging out of control. The uneven playing field and the historical and political causes of social oppression around the globe are also on full view. Yet the success of efforts to enact social justice reforms, such as ensuring the basic right to vote and protecting people of color from police violence, is far from assured even and especially in the United States, the “land of liberty.” Continue reading “Seeing with the Third Eye – For Monica on her 65th Birthday”
On the occasion of Monica’s symbolic birthday I would like to reflect on how I met Monica in Salzburg in 2011 and how, since then, she has become an invaluable person to me, encouraging me to write my first monograph and consequently undertake and pursue my long-term research on South Asia and Central Europe.
In 2011, I had just completed my PhD on modern art in Pakistan at the University of Vienna under the supervision of Ebba Koch when I was invited to partake in an initiative that was spearheaded by Sabine B. Vogel and Hildegund Amanshauser. This was the Global Art conference at the Salzburg International Summer Academy of Fine Arts. The project was later reorganized and renamed the Global Academy and then the Planetary Academy. Monica was invited to open this international conference as a speaker together with Hans Belting. Her paper reflected on traditional art-historical methodology and its insufficiency in resolving geographical hierarchies and conditions of visibilities. Her proposal for a transcultural art history that offers an analytical framework on many levels rather than simply opposing the global and the local has led me to engage with these methodological inquiries and possibilities more closely. Continue reading “Fellow Travelers”
by Jennifer Bürk, Heidelberg Centre of Transcultural Studies, Heidelberg University
Exploring New Worlds
When I first met Monica Juneja, on an October afternoon in 2009, to start working as her new student assistant, little did I know how crucial this work relationship would become for my further education and how formative this work would be for developing my own research interests and nurturing my critical thinking. At the time, I was about to complete my bachelor’s degree in art history, and in retrospect, my naïve knowledge of art (history) was mostly limited to the clear-cut bounds of European western art with only some basic awareness of East Asian art, let alone the art of the Islamicate or any other regions of the world.
My tasks were mainly administrative in nature but being part of Monica’s seminars and lectures and initially, only loosely following the contents of the sessions opened up many facets of the world (or worlds) for me. These facets included the vibrant Mughal miniatures and other visual objects and collection practices across the globe, alongside challenging questions as to what the term ‘Islamic’ means in conjunction with the notion of art. Gradually, this led to realizing a keen interest in all those art objects, places, and histories that fell strangely ‘out of place’ within the master narrative of European art history. In these objects, places, and histories the complexities and negotiation processes of cultural encounters felt more tangible (and often more visible), while at the same time providing a deeper understanding of art history as a discipline constituted to not only include, but also deliberately to exclude large parts of artistic production. Consequently, I decided to write my master’s thesis about the garden manors of the Norman king, William II of Sicily. Mary Louise Pratt’s term “contact zones”[i] seemd especially fitting for Norman Sicily as it was often dealt as both exotically fascinating because of the sheer richness of multicultural artistic creations and also impossible to grasp given its history as a site of conquest and power struggle.[ii] I believed that there was more to this story that required unraveling. Thus, I raised and addressed the question of how the Normans dealt with the artistic abundance. My answer, at the time, was that the Norman kings, specifically William II, were engaged in a deliberate and selective process of reconfiguration, irrespective of issues such as ‘origin’. Of utmost importance was that the artistic outcome would be able to address a multiplicity of societal and cultural strata while at the same time artistically linking kings and princes across the Mediterranean. While not being a supervisor to this thesis, I am grateful for Monica’s enthusiasm about this topic which also allowed me to give a guest lecture on Norman Sicily in her course “Europe and the Arts of Islam” (summer term 2013) and to participate in the workshop “Art Histories and Terminologies I” held in Berlin in 2013. Continue reading “Hundreds of Facets: Reconfiguring Sight and Vision in Norman Sicily”
by Jo Ziebritzki, Heidelberg Centre for Transcultural Studies, Heidelberg University[i]
Meeting the muse
It’s early April 2017. The last couple of hours I was immersed in a typescript on ancient Buddhist temples in the library of the University of Vienna. As I now descend the grand staircase leading into the inner courtyard, my consciousness slowly emerges from the ancient past returning to the present. Outside, behind the arcades, the bright pavement reflects the spring sun. What a beautiful moment to stumble upon after a long morning in the library. Looking around, I suddenly notice an odd shape on the ground, like a shadow, but huge, and made of dark grey stone. I walk onto it, trying to decipher its contours. It is much longer in proportion to its width. I follow its length and realize that it resembles a human figure. When I reach the figure’s feet, I involuntarily smile: the shadow is wearing high heels. That was unexpected. I guess I had associated the human shape with the chalk figures at crime scenes – placeholders of evidence for someone hurt, escaped, or dead – sketched to decipher a cruelty. My eyes travel upwards along the leg of the figure, taking in the steady standing position, following the shape of the upper body, where one hand rests on the hip while the other one is raised with a clenched fist. The head of the figure is slightly tilted and framed by a bob haircut that seems to vibrate with vigorous movement. “Dear revolutionary shadow figure, would you tell me your story?”