Professor Sumathi Ramaswamy

Keynote address
ADI Conference, 27 June 2017, 11:15-12:15
Room: 35-01-06, CSS, Faculty of Social Sciences

Abstract: A Mahatma on the March: Towards an Aesthetics of the Ambulatory

The power of the nonviolent march, Martin Luther King declared in 1966, “is a mystery.  It is always surprising that a few hundred [oppressed] marching can produce such a reaction across the nation ” What indeed accounts for the mysterious power of the nonviolent march in colonial modernity—and in our times?  This is the question with which I grapple by focusing on the Salt March of 1930 led by “Mahatma” Gandhi in British India, as a way of connecting to the conference theme, “Asia in Circulation.” The Salt March catapulted Gandhi, already well known in many parts of the world, into a global symbol of anticolonial nonviolence and civil disobedience.  Not surprisingly, there is an enormous body of historical scholarship on the moment and movement.  Building on this scholarship, I pivot from word to image to attend to the large body of artwork that has been produced around this moment and movement from its time into the present. I do this to describe the contours of what I am calling an aesthetic of the ambulatory that has developed around the figure of the Mahatma since the time of this paradigmatic march. I also argue that these artworks reveal how Gandhi’s pedestrian politics had an aesthetic dimension that is revelatory of the mysterious power of the nonviolent march. 

Sumathi RamaswamySumathi Ramaswamy is Professor of History at Duke University. A cultural historian of South Asia and the British empire, her research over the last few years has been largely in the areas of visual studies, the history of carto-graphy, and gender. Sumathi Ramaswamy's work in popular visual history has also led her to co-establish Tasveerghar: A Digital Network of South Asian Popular Visual Culture.