Revisiting Tantra: a contemporary British and Indian response to the “seductiveness” of Tantric museum objects

Dorsett, Chris and Nair, Janaki (2015) Revisiting Tantra: a contemporary British and Indian response to the “seductiveness” of Tantric museum objects. In: 2nd International Conference & Exhibition on Semiotics and Visual Communication, 2nd - 4th October 2015, Cyprus University of Technology, Lemesos, Cyprus.

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On a daily basis the communicative presence of the human body in contemporary Indian visual culture is understood and utilised without the support of textual commentary or explanation. For example, the movements and gestures of Kathakali and Bharatanatyam dance have embodied semiotic significance for their audiences whether the viewing context is classical theatre, where meanings are historically codified, or a Bollywood film, in which traditional content is emptied out to generate greater immediacy and appeal.
In this paper a British artist versed in Peircian semiotics (Dorsett) collaborates with a traditional Kathakali dancer from Kerala (Nair) to examine the role of attraction and appeal within the non-verbal repertoires of Indian dance movement, an undertaking that follows well-established thinking in performance theory (e.g. Turner 1986). However, the aim is not to add to this specific theoretical canon but to reappraise the 1960s/70s museological and exhibitionary frame in which Indian notions of sexualised divination and ritual became a ‘culture of seduction’ for arts audiences in the UK. This was achieved through the very opposite of embodied meaning, through the consumption of academic textual commentary enhanced by state-of-the-art exhibition and book design practices. In particular, this paper uses Hugh Shaw’s catalogue (itself a highly desirable artefact) for Philip Rawson’s Hayward Gallery exhibition Tantra (1971) to consider, firstly, the ‘seductiveness’ of Indian sculptures and paintings for the British arts and museum establishment at the time, and secondly, the present day cross-cultural status of Rawson’s legacy as an early theorist of sensual culture, a field of research more familiar to us now through influential publications such as David Howes’ Empire of the Senses (2005).

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Subjects: W100 Fine Art
Department: Faculties > Arts, Design and Social Sciences > Arts
Related URLs:
Depositing User: Prof Chris Dorsett
Date Deposited: 04 Feb 2016 09:26
Last Modified: 12 Oct 2019 12:16

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