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Life, Labor, and a “Coolie” Picturesque

Date and Time: 
Tuesday, April 12, 2022. 04:00 PM
Meeting Location: 
Zoom
Workshop: 
Decolonizing Archives, Rethinking Historical Methods
Meeting Description: 

This talk presents work from a forthcoming publication that addresses the logic of racial segregation in an imperial picturesque. It examines a late Victorian photographic archive for its obscuring of Indo-Jamaican and Afro-Jamaican co-habitation and a plantation labor system in which Indian women were assigned the lowest-ranked tasks. Sharpe uncovers the photographic traces of indentureship by introducing time and motion into a still photography that reduces Indian lives to single ethnographic instances. She also deploys dougla—the name for people of mixed Indian and African descent who exist as flaws in a colonial hierarchy of race—as a critical lens for exposing photographic flaws that rupture the smooth surface of the picturesque in ethnographic tableaus of “coolies” and Orientalizing portraits of “coolie belles.”  

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About the Speaker

Jenny Sharpe is Professor of English, Comparative Literature, and Gender Studies at UCLA. She is the author of Allegories of Empire: The Figure of Woman in the Colonial Text (1993), considered a classic in postcolonial studies, and Ghosts of Slavery: A Literary Archeology of Black Women’s Lives (2002), which examine Black Caribbean women’s negotiations for power within the constraints of slavery.  Her most recent book, Immaterial Archives: An African Diaspora Poetics of Loss (2020), explores the intangible phenomena of affects, dreams, and spirits that artists and writers introduce into material archives for shifting their forms and accompanying notions of “the human” from Europe to the Caribbean. She has published widely on cultural theories of diaspora, gender, and globalization with an emphasis on India and the Caribbean. 
 

About the Respondent

Usha Iyer is Assistant Professor, Film and Media Studies, at Stanford University. She is the author of Dancing Women: Choreographing Corporeal Histories of Hindi Cinema (2020). Her next project studies the affective engagements of Caribbean spectators with Indian cinema and the impact of Caribbean performance cultures on Indian film industries


This workshop is co-sponsored by the Center for South Asia at Stanford.

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