Dr. Mani Shekhar Singh

Mani Shekhar SinghMani Shekhar SinghMani Shekhar Singh

Curriculum Vitae

Mani Shekhar Singh studied Sociology at the Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi, obtaining his doctorate degree with a thesis entitled "Folk Art, Identity and Performance: A Sociological Study of Maithil Painting". Next to teaching obligations at the University of Delhi, he taught, inter alia, at the New School for Social Research in New York. He has received numerous scholarships and awards for his work in the field of visual culture. In 2010, he was Directeur d'Etudes Associé at the Maison des Sciences de l'Homme (MSH) in Paris. Furthermore, Mani Shekhar Sing is recpient of, inter alia, the New India Foundation stipend, the Rockefeller stipend at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, the India Foundation for the Arts stipend, as well as stipends from the Volkswagen Foundation and the University of Heidelberg.

Mani Shekhar Singh's research interests include visual anthropology, religious iconography and sociology of aesthetic practice. He is currently working on a book entitled: "Folk Art Enters the World: Maithil Paintings from Village to Nation and Beyond", as well as on the project: "Picturing Law, Violence and Justice in Maithil Art in Times of Globalization".

Dr. Mani Shekhar Singh was Fellow at the Käte Hamburger Center for Advanced Study in the Humanities “Law as Culture” from November 2012 until July 2013. During his fellowship, he was appointed Associate Professor and Executive Director at the Centre for Law and Humanities at the Jindal Global Law School (O.P. Jindal Global University in Sonipat, India) and will assume the position from August 2013.

Research Project

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.

Selected Publications

  • "Making Claims to Tradition: Poetics and Politics in the Works of Young Maithil Painters", in: Roma Chatterji (Ed.): Wording the World: Veena Das and her Interlocutors, Bronx, NY: Fordham University Press (forthcoming).
  • Religious Iconography, Pictorial Convention, and Personal Trait: Composing Paintings in Mithila, in: Alexander Henn, Klaus-Peter Koepping (Eds.): Ritual in an Unstable World: Contingency, Hybridity, Embodiment, Frankfurt: 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.