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Visual Arts Colloquium | Saumya Agarwal

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The Department of Visual Arts welcomes you to the VA Colloquium 21-22

Tracing Transitions in the Temporal at the Site of the Decorative through the Wall Paintings of Shekhawati (1850-1940)


Saumya Agarwal

Monday, 11 April 2022 | 1:30–2:45 PM (IST)

Zoom meeting Link: https://zoom.us/j/97846452808?pwd=bGFTUEYwdW9YUnNUQ1hkTjNRT285dz09


This presentation will discuss the wall paintings from a region in North Eastern Rajasthan, known as Shekhawati, as an important visual archive to understand socio-cultural changes from the middle of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th century. Through an exploration of the decorative, and its affective potential, the talk will show how the wall paintings are both important historical sources as well as agents mediating historical change. The themes of the frescoes, while vast and varied, have certain subjects that are consistently prominent. These include religious paintings; portraits of both the local rulers as well as the colonial monarchs; the means of mobility that were intrinsic to shaping the region; and novel technologies that were finding their way into Shekhawati through actual objects and printed imagery. The influence of changing patterns of consumption and the influx of mechanically reproduced images gave the paintings a certain protean quality making them an important visual resource to understand the transitions caused by colonial contact and introduction of new technologies. These transformations included the increase in influence of mechanized temporality of imperial clock time. The talk will focus on the depictions of mechanical clocks in the wall paintings to explore transitions in the temporal. The railways, factory and clerical work are ‘sites’ that have been studied to understand the impact of the advent of mechanized time in the context of South Asia. I aim to add to these by exploring the ‘decorative’ as a potential site to study the vexed process of transition to a novel temporal order.


Saumya Agarwal’s primary area of research are wall paintings decorating 19th and 20th century merchant houses in the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan. She completed her PhD on the same from Universität Heidelberg in 2021. She is currently conducting ethno-historic research on the painters of Shekhawati. This has been funded by the India Foundation for the Arts through an Arts Research Grant. She has previously been a research fellow at Musée du quai Branly from 2016-2017. Saumya completed her BA, MA and Mphil in English Literature from Delhi University, where she also taught as an assistant professor at various Delhi University colleges. Her areas of interest include concepts of time and temporality, place making practices, popular visual culture, artistic practices, and film studies. She has a strong interest in approaching the visual in innovative ways as an important resource for socio-historical enquiry.

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