Migration of Images, Texts, Ideas and Objects from Central Asia to Mughal India, 16th–18th Centuries

Dipanwita Donde

The research project seeks to provide a fundamental contribution to a cultural history – through a history of images and ideas practised in an interdisciplinary and international setting. My project is a part of the research theme, “Movement of Peoples, Ideas and Images” of the IBO. My research examines meanings, intentions and ideas concealed in Mughal paintings that evidence transcultural encounters between Central Asia and Mughal India. The study, analysis and interpretation of images and inscribed texts that often-accompanied pictorial compositions, provides an entry into the intellectual matrix of the Mughal elite, and helps identify the impact of Persian Sufism on image-making practices in Mughal art. In addition, the poetics between text and image provides a methodology for examining Mughal paintings contextualised within its own cultural practices, such as in classical Persian poetry, literature and philosophy. To overcome the labels of “influence”, “derivations”, or “progress” that dominate studies of the relationship between Mughal and European art and to address limitations inherent in the imposition of categories in the study of images, I explore the new methodological approaches of transmateriality and transmediality for my study.

I have had the opportunity to look at texts, images and ideas that engage with transcultural and transhistorical processes to think through the concepts of portability of objects and the mobility of peoples and ideas.

Currently, I am working on four research ideas 1) Images of birth as repositories of cultural memory; 2) Images of sickness and death as memorials in Mughal art; 3) Iyār-i dānish – a 16th Persian century literary translation that serves as a vessel of transculturation; and 4) The grieving figure – the introduction of key motifs to induce affect and pathos in Mughal illustrated folios. I am applying a globalizing perspective for examining processes of production, contexts of meaning and re-interpretation of artworks to examine the ability of Mughal artists to introduce affective gestures, postures, emotion and dramatization in their compositions.

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