Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Center for Contemporary South Asia

New Episode of "Sensing the Sacred" with Holly Shaffer Released

December 13, 2022

The newest episode of Sensing the Sacred is "Grafted Arts in Colonial India", a conversation with Holly Shaffer.

You can listen to the episode on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Anchor, and Google Podcasts

Histories of art in India never fail to mention the greatest hits: Mughal miniatures, Chola bronzes, the ruins of Hampi. Yet most artworks—not just in India but around the world—are not celebrated masterpieces like these; rather, many are blends and montages, mixtures of materials and methods, styles that can’t be easily classified; made by artists who are anonymous or not widely known. Where’s the history of these arts? A new monograph by Holly Shaffer, Assistant Professor of Art and Architecture at Brown University, shines a light on this theme in colonial India: it’s called Grafted Arts: Art Making and Taking in the Struggle for Western India; 1760-1910 (Yale University Press 2022) This remarkable book looks at Maratha military rulers and British East India Company officials who used the arts to engage in diplomacy, wage war, compete for prestige, and generate devotion. Shaffer uses the idea of “graft” in the sense of grafting one plant to another, to produce something new; but also in the sense of cheating or corruption. She highlights the remarkable people and relationships that make up the grafted arts—unknown artists making works for hire, rulers using art for propaganda and prestige, patrons supporting and plundering artworks; officials making a profit through collecting—not to mention an unexpected cameo from William Blake! So we invite you to enter into a visual frame of mind, and listen to this conversation.

Sensing the Sacred is a podcast hosted by Finnian Moore-Gerety from the Saxena Center for Contemporary South Asia at the Watson Institute at Brown University. Its aim is to bring listeners interdisciplinary conversations on a wide range of topics relating to South Asia.