EthNoise!

The Music, Language, and Culture Workshop

12/1: Ameera Nimjee

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Please join us on Thursday December 1st from 4.30-6pm in Goodspeed 205. PhD Candidate Ameera Nimjee will share a chapter from her dissertation, entitled “Into the Photographic Studio: Locating Contemporaneity in Visual Cultures”. Anna Seastrand, Collegiate Professor in the Humanities Core, will provide a response to Ameera’s presentation. Please note: a password protected copy of her chapter is available here; contact mleitner@uchicago.edu for the password if you will be attending. You are encouraged to read the full chapter, but welcome to attend regardless!

“Into the Photographic Studio: Locating Contemporaneity in Visual Cultures”

This chapter is a close study of an album of Indian studio photographs, compiled sometime around 1910. The “courtesan album,” to which it has become referred, features 146 cartes-de-visite and cabinet cards, taken between 1870 and 1910. Contained in the Royal Ontario Museum’s (ROM’s) Jhabvala Collection of Photography, the sitters in the portraits are mostly Indian courtesans, who were professional entertainers in the intimate spaces of their salons and in courts, performing forms of music and dance for elite Indian audiences. While the album commemorates these women and their occupations as entertainers, it was compiled at a time of their systemic decline in Indian history. Courtesans were symbols of a pre-colonial and
pre-modern cultural practice, in which elite forms of entertainment existed with some proximity to sex work. 2007-17-1-2As the official period of British colonialism began in 1857, British administrators and British-educated Indian intellectuals alike advocated for the “anti-nautch movement,” which sought to remove the patronage of this kind of entertainment in India. The ROM’s courtesan album offers a counter-narrative to this movement, inciting a discussion on photographic reality and these women as contributors to the modern invention of Indian classical dance. I mobilize the album in the broader context of my dissertation to show that the album challenges the genre category Indian contemporary dance by reconsidering what it means to be and become contemporary in music and dance. 

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