Report on Christopher Pinney Lecture

Christopher Pinney

Christopher Pinney, the distinguished anthropologist and art historian who is currently Professor of Anthropology and Visual Culture at University College London delivered two talks. Dr. Pinney’s research interests cover the art and visual culture of South Asia, with a particular focus on the history of photography and chromolithography in India . He has also worked on industrial labor and Dalit goddess possession. His publications include Photography and Anthropology (2011, Reaktion & OUP: Delhi ) and Lessons from Hell: Printing and Punishment in India , forthcoming from Tara Books (Chennai). On November 6, 2012 he gave a talk titled “Gandhi, Camera, Action! Anti-Corruption Politics and Image Citation in 21st Century India .” He presented several visuals such as photographs, paintings, posters, and other forms of representations linked to the anti-corruption movement initiated by Anna Hazare in summer 2011 and analyzed how Hazare emerged as the iconic figurehead of anti-corruption politics. The Indian media drew parallels with the Arab Spring and suggested that he was a second Gandhi, “come again.” The talk explored the question of repetition and citation in popular Indian visual culture, across mass-produced images and film, engaging the manner in which aesthetics (and the politics which it animates) is both constrained and liberated by the need to always be “half-seen in advance.” Dr. Pinney suggested that the creativity of this citationality demands a theorization of bricolage as a logic which is performatively “hot” and expansive.  “Impressions of Hell: Printing and Punishment in Colonial India” was the theme of Dr. Pinney’s lecture on November 7. With a series of visuals, he explored how the Lithographic printing fast-tracked images of hell to new broader publics in late 19th century India . These printed karni bharni (“reap as you sow”) images reproduced a pre-existing manuscript iconography but intensified their scale through their proliferation and repetition. He discussed intensively on how printed impressions thus came to impress their viewers in new ways. These images offer an iconic replication of (mis)deeds through the form that punishments take, demonstrating one of the ‘concrete’ dimensions of mimesis, and in the process ally themselves to very specific practices of power (whose late 20th century incarnation in the Emergency is also discussed). He pointed out that mimesis entails the impossibility of returning to the off-stage what has been brought on-stage, as J.M. Coetzee observes. Coetzee also locates a danger and positivity in our demand to see (those things as he puts it that “we want to see because we are human”). We might think of this as the signature of the visible: its ratchet effect, the permanent effect of the positivity of mimesis which can never be deleted. He substantiated the power and the danger of these images by showing many images that can be considered to be visual metaphors. Over 70 people, mostly artists and students of fine arts and art history, attended these lectures.