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News Category: Fellows


Trauma and Memory: Healing Through Art


Kabi Raj Lama

 

Kabi Raj Lama is a Nepal-based artist and former Visiting Artist Fellow (VAF) at the Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute, Harvard University. The VAF Program enables South Asia-based artists to spend a substantial period of time at Harvard, contributing to faculty and student scholarship and bringing valuable educational experiences from the university to their work.

The Mittal Institute’s Delhi office hosts a regular series of artist talks as part of our India Seminar Series. Earlier this month, Lama spoke at the Lalit Kala Akademi, India’s national academy of arts, which collaborated on the organization of the event in Delhi. His talk, entitled ‘Trauma and Memory: Healing through Art’, retraced his life story; he spoke of art, natural disasters and mental health. The event followed a 3-day workshop on stone lithography with the artist and students at the Akademi. 

Lama’s work reflects the complexities of disasters through an intimate portrayal of personal encounters. He also also looks at how art can be used as a form of healing from trauma. A contemporary printmaker who primarily works with lithography and the Japanese mokuhanga (woodcut) medium, Lama talked about his current project, with a colleague at MIT, that takes his work to a completely new dimension of art therapy and scientific inquiry.

He described his experience with mental health issues following two direct encounters with traumatic natural disasters: the 2011 tsunami in Japan and the 2015 earthquake in Nepal. He talked about his realisation that mental health is often ignored in the process of rebuilding after such disasters. The Mittal Institute is in the process of building a major project around mental health in South Asia – Lama’s talk showed why this is such an important issue.

New Paper: Look/Act East Policy, Roads and Market Infrastructure in North-East India


The Mittal Institute’s Arvind Raghunathan and Sribala Subramanian South Asia Visiting Fellow for 2017/18, Dr. Raile Rocky Ziipaohas published a new paper in Strategic Analysis Journal, entitled ‘Look/Act East Policy, Roads and Market Infrastrcuture in North-East India.’

Abstract:

The socio-politico-economic scene in India’s North-east region has guided certain aspects of the country’s domestic and international policy. The Act East Policy (AEP) of the government of India aims to build relations with the countries of South-East Asia, including trade relations, for which the north-east serves as the gateway. This article seeks to analyse the relevance of the policy: How is it grounded in the complex region of north-east India? In what way can it impact the region? The article argues that the new national road infrastructure bypasses the local economy, and posits the need to link rural infrastructure—especially connectivity and local markets—with regional, national and international markets.

Click here to read complete paper

 

Visiting Artist Fellows 2018/19: Aman Kaleem, Filmmaker


Aman Kaleem’s work is personal. Her best-known film, Shaadi, Sex Aur Parivaar (Marriage, Sex and Family) contains significant autobiographical elements, she says, often drawing from the lived experience of a single woman in India. In the documentary, three very different women describe the social, economic and personal challenges of choosing a life partner in India, in a moving, unflinching piece of reportage.

Shaadi, Sex Aur Parivaar came from my anxiety about getting married, and my mother’s disappointment. Despite running my own company, my entire being was reduced to that. So l processed it by making a film about it.”

Kaleem, 30, is one of the four South Asian artists selected as 2018/19 Visiting Fellows at The Mittal Institute. The program, as with most fellowships across the university, is for those who haven’t yet reached their peak and may benefit from a few months at Harvard.

She is the founder and CEO of the artist collective Kahaani Wale, which creates “alternative narratives through storytelling using powerful visual content on social media platforms”. In her early twenties, she founded and ran a company called Red Stone Films after a short spell in the film industry. “I had decided I wanted to be a filmmaker,” she says. “I didn’t want to make other people’s films.” She now sees herself as an entrepreneur, although she still makes films.

She had only been in Boston a few days when she sat down in The Mittal Institute’s lobby to discuss her work and plans. It is her first time in the US. Originally from Aligarh in the North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, she now lives 100 miles away in the national capital, whose vivid, tumultuous politics are the ideal landscape for her films.

Her latest work is about India’s culture of street protesting. All sorts of people protest about all sorts of things, from the serious, such as the ongoing issue of destitute farmers’ suicides, to the tragicomic: Kaleem meets a woman who’s travelled hundreds of miles and taken to the streets of Delhi to protest against her long-absconded husband. Another of Kaleem’s characters is an unfortunate man who’s protesting the fact that he was legally declared dead – by mistake, of course – a decade ago.

“It’s truly unique,” she says. “But we’re interested in the culture, not the politics. It is very Indian to believe that change can be created this way. I hope the project expands to a point where I have enough collaborators in South Asia to create a repository of content about street protests.”

She plays some unedited footage. These are deeply personal stories that illuminate much broader social issues, a classic technique of journalism. But she doesn’t see herself as a journalist, because she doesn’t attempt to be objective or impartial. She is – and wants to be – connected to her subjects.

This project is the key to her Harvard plans. As personal as her work already aims to be, she wants it to be even more immersive for the viewer, by exploring the possibilities of virtual and augmented reality technologies. To that end, she will connect with innovators at Harvard and elsewhere in Cambridge, including MIT’s Media Lab, in order for everyone to experience the intensity of a few raucous streets in Delhi.

 

 

A Focus On Tribal Issues In India : Meet The Mittal Institute’s New Fellow


More than one in six Harvard College freshmen in the recently-admitted Class of 2022 are first-generation students – that is, they (and possibly their siblings) are the first in their families to attend an institution of higher education. Later this month, meanwhile, The Mittal Institute and the HBS Club of the GCC will welcome dozens of college students from all over the developing world to Dubai for the second annual Crossroads Emerging Leaders Program – they, too, are all first-generation students. Universities can be daunting environments for anyone, perhaps more so for students who have no family experience to draw upon.

The Mittal Institute’s new Arvind Raghunathan and Sribala Subramanian South Asia Visiting Fellow for 2018/19, Roluahpuia, understands this well. A native of Manipur in northeast India, he was also the first in his family to attend university and admits there were challenges convincing his parents that an academic career is a worthwhile option for an exceptionally bright young man, rather than earning a good living straight away. 

“In a sense, I was disobedient,” he says. “I wouldn’t say my family was unsupportive but the reality is that it takes many years to complete a PhD and there is financial pressure. But this was my passion and I needed to take this bold decision.”

Roluahpuia in his new office at The Mittal Institute

Roluahpuia achieved a PhD last year from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in India. He is interested in identity, nationalism, development and borderland studies. His PhD thesis is an in-depth ethnographic account of the Mizo national movement in northeast India. Now, having worked as an assistant professor for a year at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), New Delhi, he is the latest Indian scholar to be awarded the Arvind Raghunathan and Sribala Subramanian Fellowship by The Mittal Institute and will spend a year at Harvard. The fellowship supports recent, South Asia-focused PhDs in the humanities and social sciences.

Roluahpuia is from a tribal background. In India, indigenous tribes account for around a tenth of the total population – more than 100 million people – and they are largely at an economic and social disadvantage. Around one third of the population of Roluahpuia’s home state Manipur is tribal, according to the 2011 census. But tribal issues, he says, are at the fringes of academia in India. “My interest is in tribes, although there’s no such thing as ‘tribal studies’,” he says. I think about questions of identity, of development and of nationalism, and also of territory and conflict.”

“In India, the academic focus on tribes has been relatively scant,” he continues. “There may be plenty of historical and anthropological works but we are still rather uninformed about contemporary tribal politics.”

Having just arrived on campus – and in the US for the first time – he makes it clear that it is too early to forecast the rest of his year at Harvard. He will keep an open mind and allow himself the space to benefit from the many opportunities that will come his way.

“It’s a big leap for me, personally and professionally, and the fellowship was unexpected”, he says. “But in the first few days here, I have already felt the exciting academic and intellectual atmosphere.

“The issues that I touch upon in my own work are very much global in nature. There is a lot to learn from other parts of the world. I can listen, share my ideas and fully participate in the academic exchange.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visiting Artist Profile: Imran Channa


Lik Likoti  Oil on canvas, plywood box, 76x52x8inches, (each box) Imran Channa, 2012, Lahore.

 

Spring 2018 Visiting Artist Imran Channa is a contemporary artist from Pakistan. His art practice interrogates the intersection between power and knowledge. Channa’s primary focus is on the documentation and dissemination of historical narratives and events. He explores how fabricated narratives can override our collective memory to shape individual and social consciousness and alter human responses. 

In this interview, we discuss how he first became interested in installation artwork and the benefits of making art abroad. You can learn more about his work by visiting his website

 

What was your artistic background like?

I started my artistic practice soon after I graduated from The National College of Arts, Lahore in 2004. Then I enrolled again in their MA program and graduated in 2008. Since then, I have been continuously practicing and showing my work nationally and internationally. Besides my art practice, I am an art teacher at the Department of Fine Arts and Visual Arts at National College of Arts, Lahore, Pakistan. The combination of teaching and practice has led to my approach being more research based.

 

You also do a lot of installation work. When did you start that?

During my studies at The National College of Arts I trained as a painter and as a result I was making a lot of 2D work, but when I presented my work in galleries I always felt that works were detached from their surroundings. I became more interested in the surroundings, in ideas about place, locations and contexts. It became a starting point for me to think about and create installations that were more site specific.

My first installation was Lik Likoti, which means hide and seek. It consisted of large (about 4 x 6ft) oil paintings on canvas, based on historical photographs. I placed each painting inside a loading box and that’s how they were presented. The viewer couldn’t see the whole painting, only a fragment of the painting was visible.  

This type of work elicited a strong reaction from galleries, collectors and audiences. I realized that it is important to question the notions of contemporary art produced and displayed in galleries in Pakistan, because lack of funding and alternative or experimental art spaces means that artists have to rely on commercial success to survive financially. As a result of this, the works that are produced are beholden to the demand of the galleries system. 

When I moved to the Netherlands for the Jan van Eyck Academie fellowship in 2016, I really engaged with my research based practice. I also started to further enjoy and experiment with the challenges of making installations. This has led to me digging and investigating a bit like an archeologist.

 

How did you begin to do your artwork on Partition images?

My work interrogates archives and amplifies the influence of subjectivity by relating historic photographs to the present . I started making work on the images of Partition that I found in Life Magazine. When we seek the visual evidence of this monumental event in history, it’s surprising that we only find a small body of photos, mainly captured by western photographers like Margarete Bourke White. These photos are a visual record of Partition; the tremendous scale of widespread violence, the physical and psychic displacement, all the horrors that Partition produced. I am interested in a lot if things- the endless persistence or presence of images, duration, time and memory.  For me, the photograph is a rectangular form that is disconnected from a flow of time. I believe that an interesting photograph doesn’t belong to any one time, but instead is a confrontation or provocation that invites us to consider the coexistence of multiple times.

 

Do you see yourself also going into other historical events in the future?

I came to Europe because I think it’s very important to travel for long periods of time. By creating a physical and mental distance from your country, you are able to take another look at reality, which you might have otherwise missed because you are so close to it. This experience has broadened the ways in which I approach my practice. I have visited many libraries, museums and collections, and this has shifted my attention to the way we look at images.  Now I am not only collecting and organizing archival material but also collecting and organizing experiences, and trying to present what was previously invisible.

 

The work you do with the Erasure, it’s a very physical act. Could you describe your experience, because you’re creating these very beautiful images that could be sold in a gallery, then you’re erasing it. What is the feeling that you have as you’re erasing these very detailed images?

A memory from my childhood is of erasing. It’s like you are hiding something when you have made a mistake. This has led me to think about collective erasure by societies when dealing with bigger mistakes made historically and how certain power structures need to dissolve, hide or erase historical documents in order to render the mistake forgettable.

I make exact copies of drawings with pencil on paper based on historical documents then deliberately erase them. What is left on the paper are just the traces of drawing. It’s actually a painful process for me as I’m putting a lot of effort in one drawing knowing that inevitably I will just erase it. I have adopted this creative process of destruction as I think it leads to a new kind of inscription. This work talks about both larger and smaller ways in which history is rewritten and how inaccurately or incompletely documented history continues to inflict psychological pain on people, altering modes of living. The process of fabrication is continuously affected by power and ideology, and in a way I become a part of those situations.

 

I know that you’ve been doing some archival research with maps. Do you know what direction it’s going in?

I am still in the process of collecting the materials.  I’ve been focusing on 16th century prints and maps, especially in Europe. I see them as active agents in the creation and dissemination of knowledge in 16th century Europe. I am expanding my focus on photographs and starting to look at images produced before the invention of the camera. My aim is to de-codify the symptoms produced by these objects in different times, cultures and locations.

 

What did you do while you were at Harvard? Could you describe some of your experiences?

I attended many seminars and events to fuel my conceptual and philosophical understanding of art and my own practice. I frequently went to the Astronomy Department at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics because in my practice the concept of time and its complex dimensions feature prominently. They had two evenings – one was a lecture on black holes and the other was an Observatory Night- when they opened their larger telescopes on the roof top for the public to observe and experience the stars and planets differently.

 

Do you have anything else that you would like to share about what’s next for you?

I have a lot of projects I’m working on right now. My studio acts as a poetic laboratory where images reincarnate, survive and sustain different kinds of lives. I aim to bring my interest in chemical sciences into focus. I am very interested in alchemy and the process of transmutation. Currently one of the things I am interested in is the small elements of life- like dust and water, as a container for memories.

 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

People’s Road: Connecting Rural Populations


Raile Rocky Ziipao in his Cambridge office

 

People’s Road: Connecting Rural Populations

By: Raile Rocky Ziipao

 

In ethnically volatile and militant prone states like Manipur, India, John Denver’s famous lyrics “country roads, take me home, to the place I belong,” does not always apply to villagers.

 

For over 30 years, the state government has neglected the Tamenglong-Haflong road. The construction of this road was included in the 6th Five Year Plan. During 1980–93, the Public Works Department (PWD) executed some initial work. However, the road remained non-motorable due to faulty alignment and non-completion. In 1997, the State entrusted the Border Road Organization (BRO) with the construction of this road but it declined, citing faulty alignment. Even after repeated assurances from the central government, including the former Union Tribal Affairs Minister Shri P.R. Kyndiah (2006) and Home Minister Shri P. Chidambaram (2011) during their visits to the district, the government did not build the road and the people’s dream of better facilities remained unfulfilled.

 

Inadequate basic infrastructure limits the movement of goods, people, and ideas, especially in the hill areas predominantly inhabited by Tribals. Even basic needs such as all-weather roads connecting villages, minimum electricity supply, healthcare centers, primary schools, and potable water remain inaccessible for most tribal communities in the state of Manipur. This demonstrates how over India’s seven decades of independence, the state has been negligent when it comes to addressing the problems of tribal people. Tribals are the ones that suffer the ramifications of the Indian state’s indifferent attitude.

 

Consequences of inadequate infrastructure include villagers carrying their sick on bamboo stretchers to the nearest health center. Oranges and Naga chilies (commonly known as ghost peppers in international markets) grow abundantly in Tamenglong, a hill district in Manipur. However, surplus agricultural products are left to rot as villagers are unable to transport them to the market due to a lack of road access.

 

After witnessing the hardships faced by people in remote villages in and around the supposed route of the road, a young and dynamic native-born IAS officer named Armstrong Pame took up road connectivity as an immediate requirement in the area. While posted as Sub-Divisional Officer (SDO) of Tousem sub-division, he and his elder brother mobilized resources and local communities. They created a Facebook page seeking donations to construct a 100-km rural road.

 

Previously disconnected from social media, this rural village resorted to Facebook in order to establish infrastructure. A dedicated local resident, Haingiabuing Pame mobilized the village with the following statement: “I shall give all that I have to see the completion of this road. We have waited for too long. This has been my dream. Let us celebrate when it is finished.” The response from across the globe was overwhelming. The local communities took ownership of the road and contributed in a variety of ways including labor, materials, bulldozers, fuel, food, accommodation, and more.

 

The People’s Road connects the states of Manipur, Nagaland, and Assam in India. It was completed in seven months (August 2012–February 2013), after the state government neglected it for over 30 years. Inaugurated on February 17, 2013, and opened for public use, the motto of this road stands as “together we began, together we built and together we finished.” The monolith commemorating the inauguration of the road reads:

 

THE PEOPLE’S ROAD

Dedicated unto the glory of God with the celebration of the people’s endeavour by Armstrong Pame, IAS SDO, Tousem. In the presence of all the donors, volunteers and well-wishers, may the present and the future generations remember every single drop of sweat, tears, and contribution rendered for the construction of this road from all over the world.

Date: 17 February 2013, KATANGNAM VILLAGE

 

 

Despite considerable odds, the tribal people from India’s most remote district resisted marginalization and surmounted structural obstacles by constructing 100 km of road. By doing so, they succeeded in carving their own path to mobility where the state failed miserably. The collective labor of the community achieved what the second most powerful man in the country could not.

 

The condition of the Tribals’ infrastructure development in Manipur stands as a testimony of the state’s failure to discharge its duties and responsibilities. Rather than facilitating the needs and political aspirations of the Tribes, the State suppresses and pushes them to the periphery, thereby forcing Tribes to look after themselves. The Tamenglong’s construction and maintenance of roads for livelihood, economic sustenance, and the maintenance of the ecological balance between people and nature have become the model in other parts of the state.

 

If the state or development practitioners need a consultant on building roads, they should ask the true trailblazers – the Tribal people.

 

Raile will speak about “Roads, Region Formation, and the Question of Tribes in Northeast India” in Delhi on June 27. 

Q + A with Hasna Jasimuddin Moudud: The Secret History of the Silk Road


Hasna holding a piece of Indian pottery design from India Gate, Mongolia

 

Poet and lover of secrets, Hasna Jasimuddin Moudud, has journeyed the Silk Road in search of mysterious connections across centuries and borders. She is the author of “Mystic Poetry of Bangladesh” and “Where Women Rule: South Asia.” She is currently a Mittal Institute Research Affiliate, a former Senior Fellow at the Harvard University Asia Center and a former Visiting Fellow at the Harvard University Ash Center.

In an interview with SAI, Hasna shares the inspiration behind her quest to traverse the Silk Road in an attempt to uncover the lost links between Mongolia and India via Bangladesh. 

Hasna will give a seminar on her poetic journey titled “The Silk Road to South Asia: From Mongolia to Bangladesh” on Tuesday, March 27th at 4pm.

How did you first become interested in studying the Silk Road and Buddhism?

The Silk Road is a road from the past that connected people through trade — both in open material and secret spiritual goods. In translating 1,000-year-old Buddhist mystic poems, I discovered how the poems traveled from Bangladesh, Nepal, and Bhutan to Tibet and Mongolia through the Silk Road. The poems are lost now but preserved far away. Art, books, and secret tantric teachings traveled the Silk Road through secret passages in the Himalayas.

My interest in poetry grew through my father who was a great poet. We lived near the Kamlapur Buddhist monastery. After my long-awaited visit to Tibet, I learned how people from far away revered Atisha. However, besides the Buddhist priests, people in his birth country, Bangladesh, did not know about Atisha. I see myself as his daughter — and I am devoted to introducing Atisha Dionakara Srigana to his people in Bangladesh.

 

What are some of the questions that led to your trip to Mongolia?

I always felt that India had a very close connection with Mongolia, despite being so far away — deserts and mountains could not keep India and Mongolia apart. I wanted to find these connections by traveling to Mongolia. Last year, I attended the World Poetry Congress in Mongolia and found some answers.

My proposal that the Silk Road came through Bangladesh, connecting Mongolia with Bangladesh — intrigues people, for it is a secret history.

 

There is something poetic about your physical journey to discover the lost connections between Mongolia, India, and Bangladesh. I noticed that you also have published on poetry. Could you describe the role of poetry in the way that you conduct your research?

I sometimes call myself a writer and a poet, who loves nature. My research is about restoring and conserving the world’s lost and natural heritage.

It is exciting to imagine how these Silk Road riders rode off, some to make money and others not, with a great sense of necessity — an urge to be a part of a race into the unknown — an urge shared with animals. It is a call of nature, just as the mountain and the sea often call me. Poetry opens roads to unusual places.

 

What has been the most surprising part of your research?

Sometimes information comes as a revelation and I do not have to research; it appears — like a piece of a poem.

Additionally, as a masters student of old English literature, translation, and manuscript reading, I have a self-acquired specialization on handling old manuscripts, bringing in new meanings and focusing on the world of their period.

 

What is a common misconception about the Silk Road?

That it exploits cultures and brings deadly diseases like the plague, or that the Silk Road belongs to one country.

 

Who are some of the people that you have met on your travels in Mongolia?

I encountered writers and poets, Buddhist priests, homemakers, and every-day Mongolians. People, who do not speak my language, but share the mysteries of the desert. I met a young man who is a founder of his school belonging to the Kadamba sect of Buddhism — he said that he would pray for me.

 

What is the research that you have been conducting while at Harvard?

When I first started working on the Silk Road — or Roads — it was not so well known. During the last five to six years, suddenly everyone is talking about the Silk Road, even Barack Obama. It now has many names, with political and economic connotations that offer many theories and interpretations.

However, the Silk Road is the Silk Road. My interest was to bring the Silk Road to Bangladesh.

At Harvard, I spent my time in the libraries and museums, discovering a different library each week. The seminars and lectures have enlightened me. My research is about bringing peace in the world, nothing less. Since the Silk Road is not always about a single country, I see ways in which the Silk Road can continue to build connections between cultures.

SAI Fellowship Deadlines are March 6, 2018


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The Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Institute, Harvard University (SAI) offers opportunities for scholars and practitioners to utilize the university’s resources to contribute to self-driven, independent research related to South Asia. The deadlines for the 2018-2019 Aman Fellowship, Arvind Raghunathan and Sribala Subramanian South Asia Visiting Fellowship and Babar Ali Fellowship are March 6, 2018.

 

Inaugural Harvard B4 Fellowship Opens New Doors for Postdocs


Left to Right: Venki Murthy, Ramya Purkanti, Gayatri Ramakrishnan, Parvathi Sreekumar, and Praveen Anand

One year ago when Parvathi Sreekumar earned her PhD in Crop Physiology at the University of Agricultural Sciences in Bangalore, India, she never would have guessed that today she’d be halfway around the world, learning computational biology and bioinformatics to study bacteria in Philippe Cluzel’s lab. Yet here she is in Cambridge, along with three other research fellows from Bangalore who were awarded the inaugural Boston Bangalore Biosciences Beginnings (B4) Fellowship, co-sponsored by the South Asia Institute (SAI) at Harvard University and the Institute for Bioinformatics and Applied Biotechnology (IBAB) in Bangalore. The four fellows, selected from over 52 applicants, earned their PhDs in different fields from different institutes in India, but all now share the unique experience of spending 11 months pursuing research in a completely new direction at Harvard. “Being part of this fellowship is broadening my research exposure and equipping me with new skills that I can go home and implement in India. I’m grateful that students from diverse fields are being given an opportunity like this,” says Sreekumar.

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Arms, armor, and weapons


rrBy Meghan Smith, Communications and Outreach Coordinator, SAI

Sometimes, to shatter the glass ceiling, you need a weapon.

Rachel Parikh has plenty at her fingertips – and she wants to use them to break more than a few glass ceilings. As the Calderwood Curatorial Fellow in South Asian Art at Harvard Art Museums, she focuses her work on manuscripts, arms, and armor – yes, weapons.

She admits that even she had her own misconceptions about studying weapons.

“You often associate arms and armor with war, violence, and masculinity,” Parikh says. “I made my own PhD dissertation all about breaking misconceptions about Islamic art and South Asian art, so it was funny that I fell into this misconception about arms and armor.”

Parikh’s dissertation at the University of Cambridge focused on a seventeenth century Deccan Indian copy of a sixteenth century Persian manuscript called the Falnama (‘Book of Omens’). After completing her Ph.D. Parikh was a Postdoctoral Fellow at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she researched and cataloged objects for the museum’s Department of Arms and Armor.

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