This talk illuminates local discourses on “caste” in paintings produced in the
eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries by bazaar artists in the Tanjore
“Company” style in the Tamil region. Company paintings are seen as a
culturally hybrid genre, and Castes and Occupations (CO) paintings are particularly
vulnerable to the assumption that they are driven solely by European stereotypes of
caste. Here, Dr. Peterson explores the possibilities of recovering aspects of Indian
agencies in the production and circulation of CO sets. She traces the role of local
artists and translators in presenting jati (“caste”) in these sets and illuminates their
embeddedness in a shared aesthetic of representation with the vibrant polyglot
literary works produced in the region’s cosmopolitan social world. The paintings
express an indigenous elite ethnographic sensibility that diverges, both from
some elements of jati relations in contemporary Tamil Nadu, and from colonial
ethnographic projects that sought to reify jati as “caste” in new ways.
Speaker's bio: Indira V. Peterson is a leading scholar of Sanskrit and Tamil
literature and Hinduism, as well as South Indian literary, social and cultural history and performing arts, especially classical music, and early modern drama. Her interests include translation, European–Indian culture contact, and comparative literature.
Among her books are Poems to Siva: The Hymns of the Tamil Saints (Princeton,1989), and Design and Rhetoric in a Sanskrit Court Epic: The Kiratarjuniya of Bharavi (SUNY 2003). She is completing Tanjore Renaissance: King Serfoji II and South Indian Modernity.