Shia devotional art and material culture:
Visual narratives of transculturation, social memory and community identity

Fiza Ishaq and  Annapurna Garimella

This project focuses on the study of popular visual and material culture of Shia communities in Bangalore and Hyderabad. Art objects will be examined under three categories; material culture
of the imambara, Muharram imagery and how we as researchers intuit Shia devotional art in relation to other categories of Islamic visual culture. The purpose, use and meanings of these objects specifically in the context of every day Shia devotional practices and the annual observance of Muharram will be documented and analyzed. By examining specific works both historical and contemporary, we will identify how earlier precedents were adapted for their current use, what was lost in the process and what emerged out of it. It will also be a study of how popular posters, a major art form in this visual culture, has been utilized during Muharram processions to depict contemporary political figures and issues alongside visual representations of Shia prophets (Ali, Hasan and Husain) and religious symbols, in a bid to gain legitimacy from the community of Shia believers.

Moreover, we seek to study how Shia devotional objects as well as non-Shia visual art have been impacted by transculturation and to identify and analyze the functions they serve in different spaces: inside the precincts of the imambara, on display in homes and workspaces and in the streets, during processions. Finally, the role of these devotional objects in maintaining social memory and forming community identity will be examined.  Most importantly, we aim to understand what these visual representations mean to the community of believers in different situations and how they have come to aid various agendas, both political and communal.  The project will result in an essay and exhibition of Shia devotional art objects.

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