A Tribute to Monica – Practicing Transcultural Art History: “The ability to navigate multiple scales”

by Birgit Hopfener, Carleton University

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””

Seeing with the Third Eye – For Monica on her 65th Birthday

by Claire Farago, University of Colorado Boulder

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]

Monica Juneja, 2016.

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”

Fellow Travelers

by Simone Wille, University of Innsbruck

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”

Hundreds of Facets: Reconfiguring Sight and Vision in Norman Sicily

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”

Monica Juneja on her 65th Birthday

by Axel Michaels, South Asia Institute & Heidelberg Centre for Transcultural Studies, Heidelberg University

December 30 is a significant day because it is the birthday of some significant people:

39 AD Titus
1819 Theodor Fontane
1865 Rudyard Kipling
1879 Ramana Maharshi
1880 Alfred Einstein
1942 Vladimir Bukovsky

Above all, it is the birthday of two people who are particularly dear to me: Monica Juneja and Ilse Fromm-Michaels. Continue reading “Monica Juneja on her 65th Birthday”

What’s in a Bindi and a Hand? Or: The Way Monica Juneja Enabled Me to World Myself by Sharing Her Worlds

by Franziska Koch, Heidelberg Centre for Transcultural Studies, Heidelberg University

Getting to know and working closely with a scholar and a personality such as Monica Juneja has been an absolute treat. It has been a process of becoming for me, an ongoing process of becoming aware of the cultural and ethical perceptions that govern my scholarly and general views. It has entailed puzzling over something she said and re-shaping my views in ways that find me a bit more flexible, and often, reevaluating the limits of my understanding. Sometimes, I slightly ache from the revelation of an unwelcome truth and struggle with an impulse to disagree but fail to formulate it quite as articulately as her. Normally, I am more sensitive and open to embrace new knowledge and always curious about what she is going to share next.

It is precisely the skillful and generous ways in which she shares: in her research, teaching, writing, and communication that make me think of her as a second mother. One who taught me the ropes of academic professionalism and has encouraged me (and many other emerging scholars) to believe in a scholarly world that is ultimately not separate from our social lives.

Working as an assistant professor for her newly founded Chair of Global Art History since July 2009, her 65th anniversary now provides me with an auspicious occasion to look back at the truly transformative work that she has achieved at the Heidelberg University’s Cluster of Excellence “Asia and Europe in a Global Context – Changing Asymmetries in Cultural Flows,” now known as the Heidelberg Centre for Transcultural Studies (HCTS).[i] I thought, why not bring both these perspectives together; my personal and professional experience of working with the distinguished Geburtstagskind and share in turn how I grew beyond my initial self while participating in the transformation she enabled. Continue reading “What’s in a Bindi and a Hand? Or: The Way Monica Juneja Enabled Me to World Myself by Sharing Her Worlds”