2015 Alfred Z. Solomon Residency: Lecture

Two leading scholars of South Asian painting — Molly Aitken, Associate Professor of Art History at The City College of New York, and Dipti Khera, Assistant Professor of Art History at New York University — will lecture on pleasure in Mughal and Rajput paintings.

Molly Emma Aitken

Aesthetic Pleasure and the Power of Mughal Painting’s Perfectly Beautiful Women To Shape Empire

Mughal India’s painters drew a canon of impossibly beautiful women out of Persianate and Indic visual traditions. These ideals embodied Mughal-era preoccupations with beauty, the pain of longing, and the power of the arts to move and transform. In social gatherings, delight in painted ideals joined in the pleasures of music, poetry, food and wine, gardens, and scent to bond elite men and women of different faiths and from different regions in friendship and love. Through an aesthetic experience founded in desire, these ideals helped enable an Indo-Muslim culture of pleasure to develop in which the elite could share without, however, subsuming a cultural, religious, and linguistic diversity the society valued and sought to sustain.

Dipti Khera

Jagvilasa: A World of Pleasure in Eighteenth-Century South Asia

The idea of pleasure as a key tenet of ideal kingship and the practice of pleasure by courtly communities to formulate and deepen personal and political bonds gains momentum in eighteenth century South Asia. Paintings, palaces and poetry create images of courtly pleasures that are easily read as portraits of decadence and triviality of Indian rajas—a view that has acquired much valence over the past two centuries. An inquiry into the dynamic communities formed around associated spaces, images, and texts that sought to create jagvilasa, a “world of pleasure,” in the renowned Jagnivas lake-palace at the Rajput court of Udaipur opens our minds to new interpretations. The intertwining of pleasure and power, and of the pleasures of Hindu deities and the pleasures of Men entices us to ask how we might constitute an art history of pleasure in South Asia. The painted worlds of complete satiation and sensorial excess—connoisseurs bonding in peculiarly affective ways over the enjoyment of architecture, music and food—create images of enjoyable parties, while shaping in subtle and direct ways courtly ethics, politics and aesthetics.

This event is free and open to the public. Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Realms of Earth and Sky: Indian Painting from the Fifteenth to Nineteenth Century. Made possible by the Alfred Z. Solomon Residency Fund.

The lecture is preceded by a tour of the exhibition at 6 pm with Art History and Anthropology major Gabriela Perez-Dietz ‘15, who has been exploring the exhibition and Museum Education in an Independent Study.

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