On November 12, 2015, I attended the “Aesthetic Worlds of the Romantic Heroine in Indian Painting and Poetry” lecture at Gamble Auditorium in the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum. The lecture was given in honor of Professor Indira Peterson. The two lecturers were Professor Allison Busch from the Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies Department at Columbia University and Professor Molly Emma Aitken, from the Art Department at the City College of New York.
Although the event was billed as a “an illustrated conversation” and Professor Aitken commented on the fact that the mutual research done by both professors seemed to be like “experiencing a conversation telepathically,” I honestly felt like this event was the unfortunate mash-up of two completely separate lectures.
The first lecture, given by Professor Busch, explored themes of femininity in Indian illustrated poetry.
Busch explained how “Indian poets were great classifiers of female figures.” She explained the different portrayals of women from that of an innocent maiden to that of a clever lover.
The lecture had many interesting tidbits that associated the literature with the illustrated portrayals, but the connection to the second lecture seemed unclear.
The second lecture was given by Professor Aitken and focused on the hand held paintings of “the stretching heroine.” She spoke at length on the repeated visual of “indolent female forms which serve no purpose except to be viewed as art.” The only connection she made to the preceding lecture was the fact that although the poetry seemed to be very gynocentric, the art seemed to be painted from the point of view of the male.
This observation made me think of our discussion of the male gaze and what it means for the portrayal of the Indian female during that time. The aesthetic nature of the female form is given priority in order to give pleasure to the predominate male gaze upon the page.
Overall, I enjoyed the two lectures separately and thought of ways to connect some of the themes to that of the class. But, I did think that in order to have a “conversation” about the aesthetic world of the Indian heroine there needed to be more cohesion and cooperation between the two lecturers.