What should happen, but has not yet happened: Painterly tales of justice

Singh, Mani Shekhar (2019) What should happen, but has not yet happened: Painterly tales of justice. Contributions to Indian Sociology, 53 (1). pp. 184-216. ISSN 0973-0648

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South Asian folk and vernacular art practices have invariably been presented in scholarly writings as ‘tradition-bound’ with fixed conventions of image-making and iconography embedded in ritual and cultural life. This article proposes a shift by drawing attention to the lifeworlds and painterly practices of young women artists from the Mithila region of Bihar in India. Relatedly, then, I foreground a set of paintings, which are contemplations on a specific form of matrimonial violence in India—the terrifying murder of brides by dousing them with kerosene and burning them alive for bringing insufficient dowry. What is notable about these paintings is the ways in which the young women artists articulate the spectre of dowry violence and death using pictorial resources and techniques that are typically Maithil in signature. The paintings, in the process, create a community of spectators, whose participation in art’s performance makes the picture surface both visible and legible. Each painting, with its intimate narration of dowry violence, teases out different dynamics between tradition and violence, on the one hand, and violence and justice, on the other. Using visual resources of fragmentation and juxtaposition, centring and repetition, ambivalence and excess, the artists contest the ‘official’ imagery and iconography of justice made available in the name of blindfolded Justitia. I argue that the creative imagination of young artists and their artworks inhabit legally plural worlds, where justice for the bride is evoked by renouncing the workings of state law. And, we might add, it is by foregrounding ‘a possibility of exile, of there being an “elsewhere”’ (Das 1999) is what makes ‘worldmaking’ possible.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Maithil art | Young women painters | Dowry violence | Images of justice
Subjects: Social Sciences and humanities > Social Sciences > Political Science
Social Sciences and humanities > Social Sciences > Sociology
JGU School/Centre: Jindal Global Law School
Depositing User: Shilpi Rana
Date Deposited: 04 Jan 2022 08:52
Last Modified: 04 Jan 2022 08:52
Official URL: https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0069966718812573
Additional Information: I also wish to acknowledge the students of the Mithila Art Institute (MAI) in Madhubani. Without their passion and their painted stories, there would have been nothing much to write about. I am also deeply indebted David Szanton for his insightful suggestions, and to the Ethnic Arts Foundation and the Devi Art Foundation for letting me reproduce some of the paintings from their collection in this essay. And, above all, I express my heartfelt gratitude to Pratiksha Baxi for showing unflagging support, immense patience, and confidence in me
URI: https://pure.jgu.edu.in/id/eprint/569


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