20132022

Research activity per year

Personal profile

Research interests

My research has focused on early modern southeastern India, with a broad interest in the embodied experience of sacred space. My publications have been motivated by questions about the relationship between text, narrative and image; the nature of portraiture; the depiction and functions of landscape. My first book, Body, History, Myth: South Indian Murals, 1550-1800, reconceives art and devotion in the South Indian temple through an intertextual reading of painting, architecture, and literary sources. From the perspective of a viewing body in motion, my interpretations of the murals in situ conceptualize viewers as participants, resisting the valorization of a static beholder in favor of one who co-produces the mural in their somatic and imaginative experience of the visual images. The book also tells a story of intellectual, social, religious, and political transformations of early modern southeastern India that situates them in the broader history of South Asian art and within the transformations of the early modern world. It is the winner of the of the 2022 Edward S. Cameron Dimock Prize in the Indian Humanities from the American Institute of Indian Studies.

My second book, tentatively titled Trees and the Ecologies of Art in South India, reconceives the importance of trees in South Asian art and religious practice in light of their changing social, economic, artistic, religious, and environmental ecologies. I was awarded a Fellowship at Dumbarton Oaks (2022-23) to develop this project. 

I was a Visiting Scholar at the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society at the University of Chicago (2017-2021), which supported a multidisciplinary team focused on the “interwoven” sonic and visual histories of the Indian Ocean world. This continuing project grew out of a multi-year collaboration with scholars, collectors, and institutions across South Asia interested in the digitization of sonic and visual archives. The current iteration of the project, Passage Through the Place of Peace: Bāuls, Bôyātis, and Bengali Modernism focuses on modernism in Bengali art, music, architecture, and education, 1922-2022. We explore this extraordinary period of innovation as a series of journeys, joining with academics, artists, and musicians in workshops, site visits, and academic paper sessions on traditional and modern aesthetic practices. Through these collaborative, cross-disciplinary partnerships, we propose to trace the interwoven narratives of Bengal’s history of modernism with both the better-known histories of modernism in the West, as well as to the lesser-known traditions of East and Southeast Asia. 

I am also part of a research team collaborating on publication of a set of interconnected temples in southeastern India, Temples of the Heart: Making a Home for Vishnu in Tirukkurungudi, South India. This project has been supported by the Davis Humanities Institute, the Indian Culture and Heritage Trust, and the American Academy of Religion. 

My research has also been supported by fellowships in the Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts and the University of Chicago; the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery (CASVA); and the American Institute of Indian Studies.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 4 - Quality Education
  • SDG 17 - Partnerships for the Goals

Education/Academic qualification

PhD, Columbia University

Award Date: May 1 2013

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