Monthly Archives: July 2016

A one-day workshop titled ‘Urban Futures and Urban Utopia in South Asian Megacities: Narratives, Play, Planning’ was organized by Utrecht University, Netherlands, and the Institute of Development Studies, Kolkata. Organized thanks to the combined efforts of Dr. Paola Monachesi, Prof. Achin Chakrabarty, and Dr. Barnita Bagchi, the workshop took place yesterday, July 25, 2016.

Researchers at the Institute of Development Studies may be used to their auditorium on the sixth floor, but as a first-timer in that room I was struck by the seriously informal setting. One of the walls carries colourful abstract graffiti and for the most part the seating arrangement comprises circular tables with chairs on all sides. It makes for much more multi-directional exchange of ideas, as paper presenters were allowed to sit in their places after reading their papers and respond to questions and comments.

One of the main ideas behind the multidisciplinary workshop was to ‘create an alternative, bottom up way of to achieve consensus in urban development, or literary and filmic utopian and dystopian narratives’, by considering Kolkata and Mumbai especially using ideas of utopian and dystopian thinking.

The first session, chaired by Professor Prasanta Ray, began a little after half-past ten, with Achin Chakraborty’s paper Planning Urban Future: From Normative to Positive Analytic. Tracing three major normative lines of thinking about the development of cities: the smart city; supporting medium sized cities with potential; and green cities. Policy makers often tend to ignore the fact that the three major concerns of urban planning (growth, sustainability, social justice) cannot be addressed uniformly at the same time and that conflicts of interest are bound to arise. Chakraborty discussed the formation of degenerated peripheries growing in proximity to Class I cities, and closed with musings on the reasons for failure in implementation of promising plans, such as Provision of Urban Amenities to Rural Areas (PURA), a plan suggested by former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

20160725_114812Jenia Mukherjee in a remarkably animated and engaging presentation spoke about the Blue Infrastructures of Kolkata. Pointing out the lack of critical evaluation of the notion of sustainability she spoke about the need to look closer at environmentalism of the poor rather than its more affluent definitions. Starting with Joseph Townsend’s measurements of the Hooghly river in the late seventeenth century, her account came down to the drying up of the Bidyadhari and the Kulti Outfall Scheme in 1943, as she emphasized the importance of the hydro-social aspects of town planning.

A team of researchers (Prerna Mandal and Dipanjan Nag) from IIT Kharagpur led by their supervisor, Joy Sen, spoke about the Role of Innovation Zones and IOT in Urban Futures, looking at three case studies, Evans, Denver; Delhi; and Hong Kong. Sen spoke of Utopic thinking as setting a yardstick against which one can measure the efforts that have been successful, and mentioned a number of innovative ways of conceptualizing cities, such as Madan Mohan Malavya’s plan based on the organization of people and movements in the Kumbh Mela. Arkopal K. Goswami who had made significant contributions to the paper, especially on the section on Transit Oriented Development was  unable to be present for the workshop, but his colleague and students dealt with the section efficiently.

Barnita Bagchi and Paola Monachesi’s paper City Utopias, City Futures: Narrative, Play, and Urbanism in the Context of two Asian Megacities focused mainly on the “ludic urban utopian imagination” in which social justice drives urbanization processes. Bagchi warned about the recent trend of forgetting history in a dangerous way and illustrated her point about a ‘layered non-reductive model’ citing instances from Aneek Dutta’s film Bhooter Bhabishyat (2012), where a property developer looking to replace an old mansion with a shopping mall meets unexpected opposition in the form of ghosts of Kolkata’s past. Monachesi spoke about her very interesting work on the game, YouPlaceIt! which hopes for conflict resolution between different stakeholders, based in Dharavi, Mumbai.

Nilanjana Deb opened her paper, The Tide of Migrants Ebbs and Flows: Envisioning Calcutta as a Born-again Cosmopolis, recalling her during her research for the paper the optimism about the city’s re-imagining had dwindled, leading her to suggest the title include the phrase ‘Failing to Envision’. Her paper raised the important question: how cosmopolitan is Calcutta–and, how cosmopolitan it has ever been. Deb’s paper focused on the Metia Bruz area where Wajid Ali Shah had settled and established a ‘chhota Lucknow’. The selective tolerance of Kolkata’s populace may not be a very recent phenomenon after all, as she suggested, by looking at the gradual desertion by the English of the Metia Bruz area after the Muslim migrant worker populace started settling down. She ended with David Harvey’s question: who can claim the ‘right to the city’?

In the post-lunch session Carla Danani gave an extremely lucid paper titled Utopia and a Rethinking of Public Space, where she distinguished between ‘utopic configurations’ and ‘utopian intentionality’. She elaborated on the notion of ‘public space’ referring to its physical characteristics while acknowledging how places have been made more complex with the advent of technology. Her attempt to develop a ‘utopian idea of public space’ takes into account that something “in common” must be built keeping intact the differences in spaces  and uses.

In Reimagining Mumbai from the Margins of the City Ratoola Kundu noted how in recent discourses the cities of the Global South are characterized by chaos and lacking infrastructure. She argued for the existence of many ‘subaltern urban imaginaries or visions’ of Utopias that resist broad metanarratives of urban Utopianism. Using case studies of Dharavi and Kamathipura, Kundu explored the relationship between the demography residing in these parts and their sense of possession and identity associated with the land. Suggesting that possible urban futures may be imagined from the margins, she asks what the centuries old existence of these ‘dystopic’ neighbourhoods tell us about visions and planning.

The last few minutes of Souvik Mukherjee’s paper went almost unheard as he unleashed a 3D viewer cardboard box showing views of different cities. His paper titled Gamifying Kolkata: A Ludic Approach to Viewing the City considered various computer games, augmented reality apps and the inaccurately named immersive experience games. Seeing Kolkata as a fundamentally ludic city (citing all kinds of makeshift street arrangement for games), Mukherjee’s paper lamented the absence of the cityscape in video games, but posited a number of exciting possibilities. The paper traced a brief history of games based on the city, bringing it down to video games, and finally to games such as PokémonGo which compel the player to explore the city in different ways while playing the game.


The final session opened with a fascinating account by Madhusree Dutta of Bombay cinema, which was based on her work in the city, featuring various experiments with the movie form and unexpected ways of installing them, such as at the ends of waterpipes at the Kalaghoda promenade. One of the things that the works aimed to highlight was cinema in Mumbai as labour-intensive industry. She took us through a wonderful series of slides showing the work that had been done to revitalise the movie archives, recreating posters and other film memorabilia. Finally she addressed the issue of the gradual fragmentation of the spaces of viewing. She cites the example of multiplexes, home viewing, and the most popular cheap forms of viewing–all of which she suggests are similar in their extreme exclusionary nature, however different in ambience.

Sujaan Mukherjee presented on spaces of dying in Kolkata addressing the question of public commemoration, historiography and the regenerative power that resides in such spaces, especially in the fiction of Nabarun Bhattacharya. The paper discussed briefly the emergence of the public sphere among the nationalist elite of Bengal before looking at the representation of burning ghats in Shakti Chattopadhyay and Allen Ginsberg. Kangal Malshat (2003) was seen in its Bakhtinian potency, and Mukherjee suggested that it is a mistake to look for the carnival in the events of the novel, but that the novel itself should be seen as a carnival. What the the insurgency that takes off from spaces of death (burning ghats and cemeteries) suggest about Nabarun’s perception of history and memory, as well as the power of representing bourgeois life as vulgar spectacle were teased out.

20160725_172005In the final paper of the day, Moinak Biswas offered an insightful history of the representation of space in Indian cinemas. He illustrated how the notion of space was value-laden from the onset in early mainstream cinema. The spaces were denominational and not in rationalized continuity. Gradually the change sets in and the city or the outdoor landscape begins to play a more important role. He cited the example of post-independence cinema which frequently feature outsiders who come to the city to become expert users of the city. Biswas spoke about the concept of ‘neighbourhood realism’, before going on to illustrate many of his points by taking the audience through a chase sequence from Anurag Kashyap’s Black Friday (2004), where the neighbourhoods through which the chase takes place ultimately modifies the relationship between police and fugitive.

The day closed with a viewing of Ranu Ghosh’s remarkable documentary, Quarter Number 4/11, but followers of the ETIC blog know all about the film by now! It is a ‘ground zero perspective of urban real estate development’, which uses innovative shooting methods to narrate the experience of ex-factory worker Shambhu Prasad Singh and his family to hold on to their rightful home as the South City residential complex and shopping mall take over the land. The director has previously spoken to the ETIC project group about her personal experiences while making the film and the methods she employed to get two perspectives within a single documentary.

With that a most enriching day’s conference featuring a mind-boggling array of approaches came to a close. Our sincerest thanks to Dr Paola Monachesi, Prof. Achin Chakraborty and Dr. Barnita Bagchi for taking the trouble of organizing an enthralling workshop.


Four-year PhD Studentships

Location: University of Westminster

Deadline: 26th August 2016


Two x four-year, full time PhD studentships in the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment as part of ERC grant funded project Monsoon Assemblages.

Stipend of £16,000 p.a. and Tuition Fees (Home/EU fees only).


Full article

Two x four-year, full time PhD studentships

Monsoon Assemblages is a five-year long research project funded by the European Research Council (Starting Grant no. 679873) with the ambition of confronting challenges of urban climate change through novel, inter-disciplinary research in three of South Asia’s rapidly growing cities: Chennai, Delhi and Dhaka. It is driven by questions of how these cities might be transformed if no longer thought of as exclusive products of human agency, but as co-designed by the material energies of earth systems.

PhD applications are invited from the spatial design and/or environmental humanities disciplines to engage with these questions. The exact areas of study will be developed with the successful applicants; proposals may draw from a number of theoretical perspectives, including urban political ecology, actor network theory, urban assemblage theory or more-than-human ontology, and propose to make use of a range of research methods, including archival research; policy research; literature review; textual and graphic analysis; ethnographic fieldwork; mapping and data visualisation; spatial modelling and design. All proposals should include a practice based component. Successful applicants will be supervised by an interdisciplinary team of supervisors drawn from the project team and will be encouraged to engage fully in the activities of the Monsoon Assemblages project, including participation in symposia, workshops, exhibitions and publications.

Full details and instructions on how to apply are available here:

Settled Topographies: From Gibraltar to the Ganges

ArCHIAM Centre Conference

July 11 – 12, 2016

10:00 – 17:00


School of the Arts Library

19 Abercromby Square


Last week the ArCHIAM Centre at Liverpool School of Architecture hosted a two day symposium, ‘Settled Topographies: From Gibraltar to the Ganges’, exploring how culture and spatiality have comingled across this trans-continental region in contemporary and historical settings. As Professor Souymen Bandyopadhyay (Director ArCHIAM) introductory remarks stated, ‘there is a need to reflect on the area’s global interactions to help inform contributions to the present world’.

The opening sessions including papers by Dr Iain Jackson (University of Liverpool), ‘State Building and Nation Creation: British Mandate Architecture and Planning in Iraq’, and Cleo Roberts, ‘The River Ganges: Colonial Calcutta’s Sub-City’, provided a rich insight into how British colonial relationships had sought to harness inherited environments through a combination of infrastructural, and prestige projects, and the ecological riverine environment respectively.

Jackson’s discussion looked at the legacy of British architecture in Iraq, and argued that flamboyant structures such as J.M.Wilson’s University of Al Il Beit, 1922-27, created to resonate with local aesthetics and indebted to New Delhi design, served as conduits for governance. Roberts drew on this analogy and discussed how the river Ganges, popularly framed as a commercial conduit to colonial Calcutta, was, as her catalogue of visual sources was beginning to show, a lived space which challenged concepts of spatial governance, and in doing so held the city together, and allowed it to function. The notion of spatial politics was further drawn out by Dr Jyoti Atwal (Jawaharlal Nehru University_ whose work, ‘Mapping Widowhood: Observations from Colonial North India’, used a method of gender geography to understand how state administration and caste enmeshed, and affected trends in widowhood.

Dr Sharon Smith (Aga Khan Documentation Centre at MIT) provided valuable insight into how visual methodologies, similar to those adopted by Jackson and Roberts, are supported and promoted by the active online documentation programme at the Aga Khan Documentation Centre. She encouraged researchers to access the diverse range of visual and material archives of the Islamic world, and to collaborate with their ongoing work and drive to digitise their resources. As Dr Michael Toler’s (Aga Khan Documentation Centre at MIT) paper ‘Visually Documenting Early 20th Century Tangier: A Study of Glass Negatives’, showed items from the collection, and showed how the archive’s development, through the open source resource, ArchNet, is enriching historic perspectives, and being used to shape current infrastructural projects.

The series of papers presented by Dr Martin Goffriller (University of Liverpool), ‘The Death of Place: An Archaeology of Oman’s Super-Modernity’, and Dr Harriet Nash (ArCHIAM affiliate researcher) continued to show how historic research in Oman, and an understanding of past settlement, is informing contemporary methods of heritage and infrastructural management. Goffriller’s archaeological work in Bahla Oasis, and Nash’s studies of the Aflāj Irrigation Systems of Oman explained how contemporary practices hinge upon historic forms of knowledge, such as the practice of star and sun watching to time, and allocate water resources described by Nash. As a subsequent paper ‘A Short Walk in the Himalaya: Vernacular Architecture on the 30th Parallel’, presented by architect John Harrison (ArCHIAM affiliate researcher) showed through detailed and continual survey, how water supplies, and drainage facilities shaped architecture and the social relationships.


Sundial in Qarya Beni Subh. Photography courtesy of Harriet N


The influences of water, and travel facilitated by oceanic regions was emphasised in research presented by Professor Soumyen Bandyopadhyay (University of Liverpool), and Professor Nicholas Temple’s keynote, ‘Migratio/Pelegrinatio, Traversing the Mare Nostrum and the Levant’. Both noted how global connections and varied routes through the Indian ocean and Mediterranean Sea respectively, had impacted on social and architectural geographies from time immemorial. Bandyopadhyay described his survey work in the Omani hubs, Muscat and Muttrah, and showed through specific architectural detailing and motifs found in a series of mosques how routes through the Indian ocean had influenced design.

A rich series of papers focused on North Africa concluded the symposium. (Abdullah Gül University) and (University of Liverpool) provided architectural insight into vernacular architecture. Polimeni’s paper presented a series of Ibadi settlements, and showed how topological analysis needed to integrate the importance of cultural identity. Quattrone’s research conducted in the oasis town of Nefta, Tunisia analysed how social and cultural requirements were reactivating the regions architecture and creating hybrid constructions, and new vocational training programmes.

A rich series of papers focused on North Africa concluded the symposium. Dr Beniamino Polimeni (Abdullah Gül University) and Dr Giamila Quattrone (University of Liverpool) provided architectural insight into vernacular architecture. Polimeni’s paper presented a series of Ibadi settlements, and showed how topological analysis needed to integrate the importance of cultural identity. Quattrone’s research conducted in the oasis town of Nefta, Tunisia analysed how social and cultural requirements were reactivating the regions architecture and creating hybrid constructions, and new vocational training programmes.

The ability to activate the landscape through practical outputs and public dissemination was shown by (University of Sheffield) and Carmen Moreno. The papers showed how researchers were creating on-site projects and workshops in the North Africa, such as the creation of for hammams, and social housing across the region described by Dr Magda Sibley, which were changing perceptions and encouraging re-use and new engagement with heritage sites. As Carmen Moreno from explained, architectural and restoration workshops informed by traditional knowledge had helped regenerate M’Hamid Oasis in South Morocco, and pass on new skills to young architects in the area. Future projects planned with Indus University in Gujarat were intending to achieve similar.

The ability to activate the landscape through practical outputs and public dissemination was shown by Dr Magda Sibley (University of Sheffield) and Carmen Moreno. The papers showed how researchers were creating on-site projects and workshops in the North Africa, such as the creation of LED solar lights for hammams, and social housing across the region described by Dr Magda Sibley, which were changing perceptions and encouraging re-use and new engagement with heritage sites. As Carmen Moreno from Terrachidia NGO explained, architectural and restoration workshops informed by traditional knowledge had helped regenerate M’Hamid Oasis in South Morocco, and pass on new skills to young architects in the area. Future projects planned with Indus University in Gujarat were intending to achieve similar.


Structural detail from M’Hamad Oasis, South Morocco

The plenary session held in Beech Gallery amongst the exhibition, ‘Yesterday’s Rooms’ by photographer Clive Gracey, synthesised the discussions, and suggested a series of new directions. There was emphasis placed on creating sustainable projects, which were aware of the on-going past, and appreciated that histories, and spaces were multiplicities, which needed to be explored in collaboration with contemporary users.


Bahla Interior, Dakhiliya Region. Sultantate of Oman. Courtesy Clive Gracey


The art of South Asia, exhibitions, and installations related to this region has recently been at the forefront of scholarship. Both in Calcutta and London, a series of exhibitions and the Paul Mellon Centre and Asiart Archive conference, ‘Showing, Telling, Seeing: Exhibiting South Asia in Britain 1900-Now’ have explored how this diverse area has been represented, consumed, and engaged with through visual means.

In Calcutta, Sujaan Mukerjhee’s visual investigation, ‘Chance Directed: A Guide to Calcutta Tourism’ was part of ‘Accessing the Archive: An Exhibition of Three Exploratory Projects’ presented by the India Foundation for the Arts in collaboration with Centre for Studies in Social Sciences. Using the Centre’s range of visual documentation including stereoscope views, postcards, photography, and tourist ephemera, Mukerjhee explored Calcutta’s visibility and memorialization from the perspective of the ‘outsider’. The installation, which offers a retrospective overview included the recreation of a 19th century stereoscope and established that the city matured, unfurled, and unfolded across the decades.


In her article for The Conversation, Cleo Roberts reported on the value of such retrospective overviews. The piece discussed Tate Modern’s Bhupen Khakar retrospective, ‘You Can’t Please All’ and related his career to India’s contemporary art infrastructure. The piece, which included interviews with Roobina Karode director of Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, and the artist, Nikhil Chopra, discussed accessibility to the arts in India and noted the tensions involved in establishing a global circuit and network of exhibition.

This tension, and entanglement of asymmetrical perspectives formed the nexus of discussions at the ‘Showing, Telling, Seeing: Exhibiting South Asia in Britain 1900-Now’ conference. The two day series of panels, opened with a poignant discussion about curating and the burdens of representation. Iwona Blazwick (Whitechapel Gallery) and David Elliott (writer and curator) discussed their experiences at Tate Modern and The Museum of Modern Art Oxford retrospectively and addressed the methodologies they employed to create conversations between modernisms during the 1980s. Geeta Kapur (art critic) picked up on these questions and spoke about the Festival of India 1982 launched by Margaret Thatcher and Indira Gandhi. She reflected on the reduction of a nation-space to city-space and spoke about the importance of the analytical frameworks and forums provided by the launch of Third Text in 1987.

The discussions which ensued, including Deepak Ananth (Ecole Supérieure d’Arts et Médias) and Sharmini Pereira (Raking Leaves), highlighted how these series of exhibitions had shifted the conceptual landscape and as Blazwick stated, in reference to the seminal Century City in 2001, had been ‘cross-pollinating’ and provided audiences with comparative cultural experiences. This notion of presenting hybrid expressions and negotiating artistic frameworks was further scrutinized in the second panel by Susan Bean and Sria Chatterjee (Princeton University). The papers historicised the process of display and used a series of European exhibitions, over the long twentieth century, to explore the role and reception of a selection of Indian artists and their work. Bean challenged the notion of vernacular and modern through the artists Ganpatrao Mhatre and Jadunath Pal while Chatterjee closely analysed the rhetoric and visual archive of the Festival of India, an umbrella series of nineteen exhibitions including the Hayward Gallery, Serpentine Gallery, British Museum and Royal Academy. Chatterjee problematized the institutional relationships manifest in the enterprise and in particular, her focus on the Royal Academy component of the Festival, showed that there was a web of viewing with multiple registers of meaning.


Zainul Abedin, ‘Santal Couple’, 1951

The subsequent papers expanded upon the role of institutions. Holly Shaffer (Dartmouth University) offered a detailed reading of institutional space through ‘Nehru: His Life and His India’ an exhibition of 1965, and Dayanita Singh’s, Museum Bhavan. Inter-linking these exhibitions she spoke of the thread of memorialization and myth embodied in images. The subsequent paper given by Lotte Hoek (University of Edinburgh) and Sanjukta Sunderason (University of Leiden), focused on institutional supported travel and the transit of two East Pakistani artists, Zainul Abedin and S M Sultan. Through these artists and the ‘journey as form’, London was shown as an influential meeting point of hybrid practice and informal exhibition. The responses, led by Nima Poovaya-Smith, considered how these papers used forensic memory, which could be both treacherous and telling, to  access asymmetrical perspectives.

The concluding panel moderated by Lucy Steeds (Central Saint Martins), series and managing editor for Afterall’s Exhibition Histories book series, discussed how exhibitions can be transposed to the page. The group including Emilia Terracciano (Ruskin School of Art), Zehra Jumabhoy and Shezad Dawood, considered writing as an afterlife, which offered a different and multi-textured form of engagement.

The second day opened with a series of papers, which teased out how Indian modernity had been exhibited in the United Kingdom and competed with and destabilised Western audiences and frames for viewing art. Brinda Kumar (Metropolitan Museum of Art) explored a show hosted by the Burlington Fine Arts Committee in July 1931 and discussed the grounding and contours it provided for a subsequent Royal Academy show mounted during the period of Independence. Kumar spoke through the exhibition texts, which framed the showcase through formal analysis, which privileged the ‘ancient end of the spectrum’. Hilary Floe (University of Oxford) moved the discussion to Myth and Reality: Oxford and India held in 1982 at the Museum of Modern Art Oxford, and a contrasting approach, which sought to ‘avoid totalizing claims’ and resist being a survey show. As the respondent Daniel Rycroft (University of East Anglia) surmised, both these papers pointed to competition within institutions and the non-neutral space of cultural politics, which should create legacies to inform future curatorial practice.

Naiza Khan (University of Karachi) and Karin Zitzewitz (Michigan State University) gave insight into how these contemporary circuits and networks of display were formulating. Their paper, ‘Nodal Connections: Triangle Network, Gasworks, and South Asian Artists in the UK’, discussed how the residency format offered by these spaces impacted on visiting artists. Case studies such as artist Abhishek Hazra gave insight into the artistic freedom and ‘reorientation of practice’ this time allowed. Eva Bentcheva (SOAS) followed focusing on an participatory commission by Motiroti for the Science Museum’s ships gallery in 2007. Her paper discussed the manifestation of the ‘Priceless’ installation and considered it as a fleeting and momentary engagement, which highlighted slow moving institutional agendas. These moments were none the less important and as Geeta Kapur stated, the platforms created by cultural institutions in India, particularly the Goethe-Institutes, were vital for artistic development.

The ability to untangle the interests of institution, artist and audience and how to conduct exhibition research was discussed by Saloni Mathur (UCLA), Carmen Julia (Tate Britain), and Sarah Turner (Paul Mellon Centre). The panel considered a number of methodologies; Mathur suggested that a legal case study approach and forensic reading of exhibitions coupled with self-consciousness was valuable. Turner impressed the need for imagination when digesting archival material and encouraged researchers to think about audience encounter and how to repopulate the exhibition space.


The concluding panel considered examples of groups kept at a distance and marginal to mainstream displays. Alice Correia (University of Salford) looked at South Asian female artists including Chila Kumari Burman, and a collection of self-initiated shows such as In Focus at Horizon Gallery in 1990, which articulated their experiences and dissent. Shanay Jhaveri (Metropolitan Museum of Art) used a show mounted at the Camera Club in the 1930s to interrogate the work of Leon Wendt. The paper discussed the moments of confrontation on show and generated a discussion about the consistent allure of art canonization.

The plenary panel and concluding remarks drew attention to the need for ongoing collaboration and as Sonal Khullar (University of Washington) stated, the ability to think about South Asia and Britain as metaphors rather than nation states. Nada Raza (Tate) highlighted that criticality was required and the exhibition could be seen as a laboratory and preamble to further questions. There was as Hammad Nasar (Asiart Archive) commented, the need to problematize the tendency to fetishise the exhibition as event.

As can be seen, this stimulating conference along with the work of Mukerjee and Roberts, highlights the enmeshed histories and narratives held in exhibitions, objects, institutions, and reflects the importance of exploring South Asian visual culture. As the first public event of a three year collaboration between the Paul Mellon Centre and Asiart Archive, there is all the more to anticipate and given the animated exchanges and charged conversations, it is certain that further and necessary initiatives will emerge and develop. These will be invaluable for capturing missed histories and regions, and problematising the relationship between South Asia and Britain’s visual relationship.