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Dr. Prarthana Purkayastha: Decolonizing Human Exhibits

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The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama

62-64 Eton Avenue

London

NW3 3HY

United Kingdom

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Decolonizing Human Exhibits: dance, re-enactment and historical fiction

This performance lecture focuses on decolonizing exhibition practices and colonial archives. It offers a brief survey of literature on nineteenth-century colonial exhibitions and world’s fairs as a cultural practice and the complicity of academic disciplines such as anthropology and ethnology in promoting violent forms of pedagogy. Next, the talk examines the failed Liberty’s 1885 exhibition in London, specifically analyzing the nautch dancers from India whose moving bodies both engaged and disrupted the scopophilia framing such live human exhibits. It pays particular attention to the dissenting voices of subaltern and marginalised dancers whose corporeal acts resisted the violence of British Empire. In the final section, the talk examines how re-imagining the Liberty’s nautch experiences by embodying archival slippages might be a usefully anarchic way of exhuming the memories of those dancers forgotten by both British and Indian nationalist history. This talk delineates the structural limitations of reenactments, a current trend in contemporary Euro-American dance, and argues that historical fiction as a corporeal methodology might be a viable decolonizing strategy for dance studies.

Dr. Prarthana Purkayastha is Senior Lecturer in Dance at Royal Holloway University of London. Her monograph Indian Modern Dance, Feminism and Transnationalism was published in the Palgrave Macmillan New World Choreographies series in 2014 and subsequently won the 2015 de la Torre Bueno Prize from the Society of Dance History Scholars and the 2015 Outstanding Publication Award from the Congress on Research in Dance. Her dance research, which examines the intersections of race, gender and nationhood, has appeared in Dance Research Journal, Performance Research, Asian Theatre Journal, CLIO: Femmes, Genre et Histoire and South Asia Research among others. Prarthana is currently working on the British Academy/Leverhulme funded book project ‘Decolonising the Body: Dance and Visual Arts in Modern India’.

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The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama

62-64 Eton Avenue

London

NW3 3HY

United Kingdom

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