(This fellowship is no longer available - the finalised essays will soon be online, see Visual Pilgrim at Heidelberg University)
In the summer of 2010, Tasveerghar invited proposals for short term fellowships from scholars, researchers and practitioners of popular arts and culture for multi-disciplinary and multi-media projects of research and documentation on the topic of popular visual cultures and practices in and around Muslim shrines and public spaces, with an emphasis on the transcultural flows as emerging in the globalised contemporary popular arts and media.
Muslim public spheres in India/South Asia exhibit a wide array of image practices such as calendar and poster art, devotional framed pictures, portrait photography with artificial backdrops, illustrated covers of religious chapbooks and magazines, besides innovative wall murals and printed notices, all of them incorporating popular icons of Mecca, Medina, local Sufi shrines, saints, Shia symbols, and Arabic calligraphy. Besides these, one also finds religious narratives in popular recorded media such as audiocassettes, video CDs/DVDs, and now the cell-phone software. Much of this popular visuality and ephemera circulate around institutions such as Sufi shrines or mosques in south Asia, although these may not be limited to only one shrine area or a city. One may also find inter regional connections between shrines of different towns and villages through the passage of these media to wider areas.
Although much of these mass duplicated images and media may have their origins in the traditional religious performative practices of the pre-modern era, the impact of new technology and media, especially derived from outside their local spaces, has altered the way religious devotion is practiced today. One could highlight this with an example about the mobility and transformation of Muslim shrines, saint portraits and relics through images and media on the Indian subcontinent (although by no means do we wish to limit the regional focus to India but explore transnational and transcultural flows!). Usually a Sufi shrine holds the original grave or relic of a specific saint that cannot be replicated anywhere else (unlike a Hindu deity whose idol or replica shrine can be recreated in other locations too). Thus the visit to a particular Sufi shrine has its unique value for a pilgrim for its originality. But the mass duplicated images of the same can easily be made and have been in circulation for a long time, making a shrine or relic mobile beyond its original location. There are evidences of hand drawn illustrations of Sufi shrines and saint portraits being made available before the onset of print in India. The printing industry, especially of colour posters and other types of images made the mass produced images of Sufi shrines even more accessible and popular. The photography has added newer dimension to this visual culture where an odd photo of a saint is used again and again to make drawings and even idols, such as in the case Sai Baba of Shirdi.
Through this multi-disciplinary project we wish to go a few steps further from the nexus of photography, painting, and printed posters, to study the newer practices of the use of “original” images for the creation of new mediated material such as collage posters, videos, animation and even Internet-based presentations that seek newer generation of devotees and their popular piety. A typical example of this would be the production of popular devotional videos about Sufi shrines that are basically music videos with a performer/Qawwal singing a new song seeking the saint’s blessing, dramatically videographed in a studio or staged settings, interspersed with the vérité shots of the actual shrine – the two of which can sometimes be very different in style and quality. There can be several such examples from the contemporary popular culture of Muslims in India. Thus, we invite you to be a part of a larger project by contributing with your specific research about a shrine, institution or public space that is witnessing the production of popular images and media and getting altered through transcultural impact.
The fellows selected for 2010-11 are listed on the next page.