Tasveer Ghar: A Digital Archive of South Asian Popular Visual Culture

Tasveer Ghar Fellowships 2008

“Kaleidoscopic Sites and Sights:
The Printed Visual Culture/s of Religious Pluralism”



Last Date of Submission was: May 10, 2008


Important Notice: Tasveer Ghar will not be offering thematic fellowships for the year 2009. However we would be interested in looking at your unique ideas of archiving/digitizing intertesting popular art.

You may also look at the details of our new project on Eurasian Muslim Popular Iconography, funded by the Research Cluster "Asia and Europe in a Global Context" at Heidelberg University. The following details from our earlier call for proposals may still be helpful if you wish to discuss any new ideas with us.

We are pleased to invite proposals for our second short-term fellowships involving the collection and documentation of unique forms of popular visual arts of India with a focus on religious pluralism and sacred sites in India. The estimated duration of the fellowship is 6 months, starting July 2008. At the end of the fellowship period, collected specimens will be digitized and virtually exhibited along with an accompanying image essay on the website of Tasveer Ghar. Prospective applicants can take a look at the website for examples of image essays that have already been posted.

the Call for Proposals and FAQs in MSWord format
The Printed Visual Cultures of Religious Pluralism:
What does the visual culture of modern India’s much-vaunted religious diversity look like? This is the critical question that we pose to prospective applicants to the 2008 Tasveerghar Fellowships. Over the millennia, numerous religious traditions, practices and institutions have arrived, evolved, and come to co-exist, as well as to enter into conflict in the subcontinent. Many studies have documented the verbal bases as well as products of religious pluralism, syncretism and co-habitation.  Yet, we know very little about the visual consequences of the coming together and co-development of faiths and belief systems that have ranged from the iconographic and the aniconic to the iconoclastic. How have these been produced and sustained through the printed products of mechanical reproduction such as religious posters, street hoardings, calendars, pilgrimage paraphernalia and other printed ephemera?  How are shared visual idioms and vocabularies developed through the coming together of faiths around sacred shrines and pilgrimages, personages and public events? How are these images incorporated and looked upon in the everyday lives of people, and imbued with meaning by diverse groups? Most importantly, what role does the production, circulation and consumption of such visual ‘ephemera’ play in underwriting a culture of religious pluralism that has survived and transformed into multiple shapes and domains over the millennia, e.g. by means of new technologies or migration?

Arguably, religious pluralism has cleared the ground for the creation of a culture of secularism in India, and also acts as a break on the more egregious consequences of religious orthodoxy, political extremism and cultural (trans)nationalism. How do the visual cultures of religious pluralism inform the visual practices of secularism, and do they offer a critique of the visual culture of religious fundamentalism? How might these visual ephemera challenge and expand our understandings of religious interchange and conflict? In what ways and for what reasons has the notion of pluralism undergone redefinition? These are some of the questions to which we seek answers through collections of images and analyses in the form of visual essays.

What do we mean by Popular Visual Arts of India?
Indian streets and public spaces are replete with all manner of popular art forms such as posters, prints, calendars, advertisements, hoardings, religious iconography, photo portraits, cinema images and so on, that reflect the changing aesthetics of the urban and rural popular culture. Most of these art forms are rather transitory: you see them one day, and they disappear or get transformed the next day, depending upon the changes in the lifestyles of the people, as well as the available techniques of image-making and duplication. There is an urgent need to collect/document these and study the context in which they are produced and used.
Despite the slipperiness of the concept of popular visual culture, it is, as Patricia Uberoi has suggested, "ultimately more enabling than disabling... It may imply the everyday, unremarkable, and ordinary, or it may refer to dramatic eruptions against the established, normative order. It may indicate the culture of 'the people', in the sense of folk culture; of it may refer exclusively to products of the modern mass media in industrialized, capitalist societies, emphasizing their wide popularity, circulation, and saturation." (Patricia Uberoi. 2006. Freedom and Destiny. Gender, Family, and Popular Culture in India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press: 4). With the help of this concept, we try to make critical interventions about the image as an arena of contestation between hegemonic ideas and resistance by linking the image to its wider domain of visibility and performance; to event and practice; to agents of production, dissemination and consumption of the 'imaginaire populaire', and to the ways in which pictures negotiate - and shape - images of the world, of Selves and Others.

Thus, through our engagements with setting up a digital database and a bank of image essays, we seek to transgress the borders of 'collecting' and displaying. We search for contexts, for ways of annotating without freezing the image. For all this, we seek your participation - and the participation and support of other scholars and collectors of popular visual images in South Asia.

We would like our Fellows to generate ethnographies of images, explore new patterns and chains of seeing and being displayed. By ethnographies, what we mean is a "thick description" for each collected image: not just contexts of production, but of circulation, usage, and so on; an account of how each image might fit into a particular "inter-ocular" universe. We encourage our contributors to be as creative and imaginative as the popular visual cultures of South Asia have been.

Before you write your proposal, please read our section on Frequently Asked Questionsto get some practical tips on applying for this fellowship, such as who is eligible to apply, what does the fellowship provide, what should your proposal contain, and so on. It would also help to look at some of the already posted visual essays on the website based on the last year’s fellowship work.