‘Visual Representation and the City’ Reading Group


The Envisioning the Indian City project presents ‘Visual Representation and the City’ a reading group seminar open to all on Tuesday 26th November from 1-4pm at the School of the Arts Library, 19 Abercromby Square, 1st floor.


Professor Kathleen James-Chakraborty (Art History, University College Dublin) will be presenting ‘Kolkata and Berlin: A Tale of Two Cities’. Following this there will be a number of roundtable discussions focused on the work of Upton (2008) and Pinney (2003).


That the study of the city cannot be encompassed by a single discipline is a commonplace.  A generation of architectural historians have drawn upon geography, history and literature to write histories of individual cities around the world; scholars from other disciplines have adopted a similar range.  Particular attention has been focused on moments of modernization and the transformations wrought by colonialism, capitalism, and industrialization.  A key tension is between describing the creation of places — urban spaces and the buildings that frame them — and explaining how they have been inhabited and experienced by actors from varying backgrounds, as well as represented in words and images.  This presentation will focus on a brief comparison of my personal experience of two cities, Kolkata and Berlin, over the past twenty-five years, and of the way in which they have been written about during the same period. While discussions of both increasingly focus on the audience for architecture rather entirely on those responsible for constructing the city, significant differences remain.  Scholarship on Berlin has largely focused on the issue of memory; that on Kolkata on colonialism.  The first focuses on individual buildings whose considerable architectural merit is widely recognized; the second largely on space.  Civic structures dominate both discussions, although both cities have long been important locations for economic exchange.  Finally, the role of foreigners is often overlooked in the case of Berlin and, if anything, exaggerated in that of Kolkata.
Kathleen James-Chakraborty is Professor of Art History at University College Dublin and Chair of the Irish Architecture Foundation.  She was previously a Professor of Architecture at the University of California Berkeley, and a Mercator Visiting Professor at the Ruhr University Bochum.  In August 2015 she will begin a five-year half-time appointment as Vincent Scully Visiting Professor of Architectural History at Yale University.  James-Chakraborty’s latest book Architecture since 1400 will be published in February by the University of Minnesota Press.  A comprehensive survey of architecture and urbanism around the world, it also pays unprecedented attention to gender.  Her previous publications include the edited collection Bauhaus Culture from Weimar to the Cold War (Minnesota, 2006), German Architecture for a Mass Audience (Routledge, 2000), and Erich Mendelsohn and the Architecture of German Modernism (Cambridge, 1997) as well as a number of articles and book chapters about modern architecture in Germany, the United States, and South Asia.  Married to a Bengali, she has visited Kolkata twelve times in the last fourteen years.

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