Katherine Irani (RCA) - 2019-20 Students

‘Discontinuous Interruptions’: bodiliness and pluralities in histories of the Indian Army, 1914-1945

The existing scholarship on the histories of the Indian Army in the First and Second World Wars offers limited sustained engagement with material culture. This is in part due to the value placed by war historians on first-hand written testimony, one result of which is that the histories of these men’s experiences – to the extent their experiences are recorded in the (public) archive – are monopolised by a Western epistemic lens. This project instead takes as its starting point the notion of bodiliness: a sense of self that is multi-sensorial, incorporates a spiritual wholeness, and that is embedded in a wider pluriverse that maintains one’s interconnectedness with and indivisibility from the natural world. Drawing on objects, photographs, film, and sound, the project explores how bodiliness was enunciated across plural registers in material culture as a way of researching histories of the experiences of Indian Army recruits during both wars. In order to do this, the project expands the idea of what design historians regard as material culture and how design historians approach material culture as a research category. By incorporating indigenous ontologies that resist the European conceptualisation of the body that dominates design history discourse and that locate agency beyond the anthropocene, definitions of material culture grounded in objecthood become unstable. For example, primary sources defined by absence – like photographs that illustrate the lack of a built environment – become relevant, and physical artefacts demand engagement for the intra-active, generative role they play as agentive forces in shaping the experiences of soldiers.

Primary supervisor: Sarah Cheang, RCA

Secondary Supervisor: Shehnaz Suterwalla, RCA

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