Hélène Fleury (Université Paris-Saclay)

Paper Title:

Transnational discursive shifts on Mithila Paintings: towards a (postcolonial) inclusive feminism?

Paper Abstract:

“Mithila painting” is an umbrella term for ritual and art forms. During the Bihar drought, AIHB encouraged shifting artwork onto paper to generate income, causing social and aesthetic changes. The resulting globalisation coincided with gender and postcolonial studies, deconstructing hegemonic discourses, and male and primitivist canons. The painters/ings narratives undergo a reversal, making visible the overlapping of dominance criteria (gender, caste, class, etc.). Evolution of Mithila art belongs to a connected history involving transnational mediators. Mithila art was a subalternised ritual prior to commodification. In 1917, Maharaja of Darbhanga assigned no primary function to murals, even though the paintings for his daughter’s marriage were sophisticated. They were marginal to male Brahminical values. Guided by upper caste male informants, William Archer documented so-called parallels he saw to modern European art. Even if the reception of his 1949 article reifies a vision of Mithila art based on a stylistic distribution per castes and a collective, anonymous women practice, he was less essentialist than he appears. Nevertheless, his wife Mildred is invisibilized in their common work. Primitivist schemes persist in Vequaud, through a countercultural myth. He positions Mithila art at the heart of a timeless village utopia, casting Mithila as a Lost Eden. He presents painters as prophetic figures within a matriarchal countersociety spread by the magazine EMMA. A discourse valuing subalternized minorities emerges by Moser-Schmitt, Ray and Naomi Owens promoting a fair trading system. Moser-Schmitt’s contribution on Mithila artists in Heresies asserts an inclusive radical feminism. Her committed anthropology contributed to the assertion of Dalit women’s identity. Filming and thinking women’s creativity contributes to thwarting inequalities. An inclusive feminism emerges early in India with Women’s Quest for Power (1980). The shift from a reified vision to its deconstruction has been gradual. The changing of narratives follows global flux and interareal transfers.

Participant Bio:

Hélène Fleury is lecturer in visual and heritage studies at the University of Évry-Val-d’Essonne (UEVE) and PhD candidate at Paris-Saclay University in cooperation with the Center for South Asian Studies (CEIAS) at the School of Advanced Studies (EHESS). Over several years, she was working as project leader in the fields of culture and youth politics. She obtained two master’s degrees, one in history (Pantheon-Sorbonne University) and one in anthropology (EHESS) after a two-year Grandes Écoles preparatory classes program in Paris (hypokhâgne – khâgne). Her research concerns the globalized reception of Mithila paintings, mediations in a transnational cultural field, interculturality and transfer studies. She has conducted four fieldworks in Mithila (India and Nepal) in 2002 and 2017-19. She was PhD representative of the CEIAS (2015/16), jury member of an interuniversity poetry competition (2014-16) and elected member of the Academic Council at UEVE and is presently elected member of the SLAM (Synergy Languages-Arts-Music) laboratory board at Paris-Saclay University. She has authored 15 scientific publications (book chapters and articles in English and French, of which 8 have been published and 7 in press), was invited to present her work at 19 international conferences and seminars in Algeria (Tlemcen University), Australia (University of Western Australia), Finland (Humboldt Kolleg 2017, Helsinki), France (Royaumont Abbey, EHESS, Singer-Polignac Foundation, Quai Branly Museum, UEVE), Germany (University of Regensburg), India (Asian Development Research Institute, Bihar Museum, Upendra Maharathi Design and Craft Research Institute, Bihar Government, Mithila Art Institute with Ethnic Arts Foundation, Berkeley) and Portugal (Humboldt Kolleg 2019, Lisbon). She co-edited Les émotions créatives (with Damien Ehrhardt and Soraya Nour Sckell, Berlin: Duncker & Humblot 2022) and organized a doctoral conference at EHESS (2016). See also several publications listed on HAL and Academia.edu.

Links to Hélène’s work: