Dr. Mani Shekhar Singh

Mani Shekhar SinghMani Shekhar SinghMani Shekhar Singh

Curriculum Vitae

Mani Shekhar Singh studierte Soziologie an der Delhi School of Economics der Universität Delhi, wo er 1999 mit der Dissertation „Folk Art, Identity and Performance: A Sociological Study of Maithil Painting“ promovierte. Neben dortigen Lehraufträgen unterrichtete er unter anderem an der New School for Social Research in New York. Für seine Arbeiten im Bereich der visuellen Kultur erhielt er zahlreiche Stipendien und Auszeichnungen: 2010 war er Directeur d’Etudes Associé an der Maison des Sciences de l’Homme (MSH) in Paris. Überdies wurde Mani Shekhar Singh unter anderem durch das New India Foundation-Stipendium, das Rockefeller-Stipendium an der Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, das India Foundation for the Arts-Stipendium sowie durch Stipendien der Volkswagen-Stiftung und der Universität Heidelberg gefördert.

Mani Shekhar Singhs Forschungsinteressen liegen unter anderem in den Feldern der visuellen Anthropologie, der religiösen Ikonografie und der Soziologie ästhetischer Praxis. Zurzeit arbeitet er an einem Buch mit dem Titel „Changing with Times: Mithila Artists and Their Pictorial Practice“ sowie an einer Studie über „Picturing Law, Violence and Justice in Maithil Art“.

Von November 2012 bis Juli 2013 war Dr. Mani Shekhar Singh Fellow am Käte Hamburger Kolleg „Recht als Kultur". Während seines Fellowships wurde er an die O.P. Jindal Global University in Sonipat, Indien berufen, wo er ab August 2013 als Associate Professor und Executive Director am Centre for Law and Humanities der Jindal Global Law School tätig ist.


Picturing dharma and nayaya in Maithil Art in times of globalization

My research on Maithil painting—traditionally a ritual wall and floor art performed during life-stage or samskara rites (such as the wedding ceremony) and other seasonal festivals by women from the Indian state of Bihar—indicates that there exists a distinct visuality of law and justice, which warrants urgent attention. I aim to examine this hitherto neglected aspect of Maithil art (and more generally folk and vernacular pictorial traditions in South Asia), especially the ways in which the women artists from different socio-economic backgrounds evoke images of justice in their artworks as they engage with processes of social change associated with commodification and globalization. The visual language deployed by Maithil artists to depict law, violence and justice is not simply about the local visual culture of justice. Nor is it about mirroring court proceedings or about transcribing written law on an artistic register. Rather their artworks are also about interrogating the received knowledge about dharma and nayaya by creatively improvising and innovating visual meanings of moral order and justice. Even when such innovative picturisation of justice do tangentially allude to or “quote” what some have called “law’s art”, these creative ways of evoking justice inhabit legally plural worlds, sometimes implying a renunciation of state law.

I aim to work on a series of contemporary paintings (in particular the artworks of the younger generation of Maithil artists), which interrogates our received idea of violence and justice. Painting on a wide array of themes related to dowry deaths (and more generally violence against women), the war on terror, communal violence, murder, corruption, and so on, these artists’ sustained engagement with issues of law, violence and justice in their artworks is illustrated. Women artists bring to their artwork elements of their biography to provide a powerful visualization of justice and its potent meanings in contexts of immense social suffering. Although very often the paintings derive their subject matter from the “global flows” of images, films, televisual serials, and magazine reportage, they are seldom based on the “eye-witness principle”, so essential to the workings the “mediascape” or valued in the making of history painting. Rather the artists, I would like to illustrate, narrate their painterly tales of violence and justice by temporalizing the different sections of the picture surface in what are sometimes extremely complex and sophisticated techniques. Even when the “micro-themes” in these paintings have their basis in real life stories and events, they are often placed within a mixture of other time frames. In the process constructing a sort of montage that has the potentiality of generating a semantic charge, which neither section of the image-field taken in isolation possesses. Such visualizations allow us to interrogate the literature which derives its analysis solely from the domain of modernist ‘high’ art. It is my hope that through a close reading of Maithil art I will be able to underscore the place of folk or vernacular art traditions in picturing justice rather than adopt the dismissive gesture of thinking of the figure of justice mainly through the prism of high art or classical iconographic traditions.

Publikationen (Auswahl)

  • Making Claims to Tradition: Poetics and Politics in the Works of Young Maithil Painters", in: Roma Chatterji (Hrsg.): Wording the World: Veena Das and her Interlocutors, Bronx, NY: Fordham University Press (im Erscheinen).
  • Religious Iconography, Pictorial Convention, and Personal Trait: Composing Paintings in Mithila, in: Alexander Henn, Klaus-Peter Koepping (Hrsg.): Ritual in an Unstable World: Contingency, Hybridity, Embodiment, Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang 2007.
  • Religious Iconography, Violence, and Making of a Series, in: Domains 3, 2007, 41-68.
  • Folk Art, Identity and Performance: A Sociological Study of Maithil Painting. Diss., Delhi 1999.