The Politics of Pleasure: The Case of Wajid ‘Ali Shah

Natalia Di Pietrantonio completed her PhD in History of Art and Visual Studies at Cornell University in 2018 and her M.A. in South Asian Studies at Columbia University in 2011. Her current book project, Erotic Visions: Poetry, Literature, and Book Arts, critically examines the binaries of sacred/profane and Hindu/Muslim that have shaped the art historical scholarship on South Asian and Islamic Art. She reevaluates representations of copulation, female nudes, and amorous couples produced in and around the Shi’a Muslim court of north India (Avadh) from 1754 to 1857 to reveal a universe of affect and relationality. Her extensive two-year archival research in the United States, United Kingdom, Europe, Pakistan, and India was supported by fellowships from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, American Institute of Indian Studies, Historians of Islamic Art Association, Society for the Humanities Research Travel Grant, and the Institute of Historical Research-Mellon. She is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor and Postdoctoral Fellow of Art History at Scripps College, member of the Claremont Colleges.

This talk examines the ‘Ishqnama manuscript, written by the last Avadhi ruler, Wajid ‘Ali Shah, in 1849. Containing 131 short stories and 103 accompanying miniatures, the ‘Ishqnama opens with Wajid ‘Ali Shah’s first love affair, which he commences at the age of eight. Historians and litterateurs, both past and present, have decontextualized these erotic passages; and therefore they saw and read the ‘Ishqnama as merely signifying sexual decadence and as a truthful sexual biography. And yet, a close visual and textual analysis of the ‘Ishqnama manuscript in its entirety reveals a more complex work that employs these erotic and textual devices to promote Wajid ‘Ali Shah’s political legitimacy. By re-suturing image and text, pleasure can be read as productive, such that Wajid ‘Ali Shah’s efforts created an “ishq” philosophy, one that places affective relations within a specific literary and political history.

Dates: 
Tuesday, February 12, 2019 - 5:00pm
Foster 103