I just came back from Olomouc, where I attended the first conference of the European Association of Asian Art and Archaeology. It was my first conference entirely dedicated to Art and I found out some interesting things:
- Art scholars neither use nor appreciate hand outs (which I had prepared, following a comment here)
- All art scholars, including the ones who do not discuss works of art, use slides and know how to do it (not too many, not too much text, not too few…), which is something I generally appreciate
- Unlike scholars of Indian art (who do not generally feel they need to master an Indian language), it seems that many (or most) scholars of Chinese art master Chinese. Zhou Xiangpin even delivered (against expectations) his paper in Chinese language. If this had happened in a conference on Indian art, I imagine that most of the audience would have left, whereas in this case the audience seemed not to be distressed at all
The latter point, together with the presence of many young scholars from China, who probably had their travel financed by their home institutions, made me think a lot about the cultural agenda of the Chinese government. The Indian government seems much less interested in guiding Indological studies. (I can think of many reasons for that, but if you have further ones, please drop a comment below).
As for the contents of the conference, there were several parallel sessions, so that I could only attend some papers. I will dedicate a separate post on the topic of my panel, namely reuse. As for the others, I especially liked:
- Bianca Maria Rinaldi‘s paper on the Western reception of Chinese gardens: Bianca explained how the political attitude towards China modified the way the Western audience reacted to Chinese gardens. China was first presented by 17th–18th c. Jesuits as a model state, in which intellectuals ruled, whereas Europe was ruled by aristocratic feudataries. Chinese gardens were consequently appreciated for their simplicity, opposed to the magnitude of Versailles’ gardens. This meant that Chinese gardens were appreciated and their style was embraced by British planners as an alternative to the French (and Italian) style of gardening. Later on, namely by the end of the 18th c., however, the appreciation of China sinked and its gardens were rather blamed because of their lack of largeness and wide perspective. Bianca clearly explained how the latter was a conscious choice of Chinese gardeners who wanted to create one different scene after the other, highly valueing the surprise they would have generated in the viewers. However, Europeans rather decided to interpret it as a sign of the Chinese’s lack of courage, softness and decadence, with European gardens interpreted as more “adult” ones.
- (Here I am conditioned by my personal interests:) Valdas Jaskūnas’ paper on the influence of the Gurjara-Pratīhara dynasty on the structure and iconography in Early Medieval Vaiṣṇava temples and in the earliest Purāṇas. Valdas follows Ronald Inden’s idea that the Purāṇas were the result of an agency aiming at the creation of empires and consequently interpreted the earliest descriptions of temple-building in the Agni Purāṇa, the Matsya Purāṇa, the Garuḍa Purāṇa and —interestingly— the Hayaśīrṣa Pāñcarātra Saṃhitā. In fact, Vaslav argues, temples with an ambulatory around them constitute a three-level structure, with first the garbhagṛha, then the upper zone, to which only the emperor and his family could access, and then the outer level. Furthermore, the Pratīharas, maintains Vaslav, chose Vaiṣṇavism as a source of legitimation and this is reflected in the icongoraphy of the temple, especially in the dikpālas ‘direction guardians’.
As with previous conferences, this post only reflects my impressions of the conference. All errors (especially in fields I am not a specialist of, such as Chinese art) are entirely mine!
Should you be interested in my remarks on the history of gardens as a mirror of a society’s understanding of “nature”, read this article.