The Unsung Glories of the Imam: Silence, Absence and the Islamicate in the Kwok On Collection’s India holdings

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By JASON KEITH FERNANDES

 

(English version of the text presented at the Museu Oriente on April 19, 2017, as part of the series A Índia Visual. The original Portuguese version can be downloaded here. For the PDF of the English version click here.)

 

Before anything else I would like to thank a couple of people who have ensured that I have this opportunity today. I would like to thank, first of all Ines Lourenco for having invited to make this presentation. I have been following the India Visual series for a while and always nursed a secret desire to be able to speak from this platform. For this opportunity Ines, many thanks.

 

I would also like to thank the team at Museu Oriente, Liliana Cruz, Sofia Lopes and Cátia Souto for their help with this presentation. I recognize the presence of my doctoral supervisor Profa. Rosa Maria Perez. And finally, I would like to thank the members of the audience for their presence.

 

To move on to the substance of today’s presentation, I would like to begin with a confession. When I received the invitation to present at the India Visual lecture series I was told that I would have the option to visit the reserves of the Kwok On Collection and choose a piece, or pieces I would like to speak on.

 

As any museum aficionado knows, it is a huge opportunity to visit the reserves of a Museum, and not one to be missed. I was particularly excited because it would give me the chance to determine if my suspicion about the nature of the holdings was fact or simply a wild idea. The suspicion was that the India segment of the Kwok On collection would in fact be a collection of Hindu objects. This is to say, that India will have been implicitly understood as ‘Hindu’ by those who constitute the collection. I was not wrong in my assessment, and what I beheld in the collection, or at least the portion I was able to review, was rack upon rack of material that is associated with what we call Hinduism. Missing from these racks, at least on first glance, were materials that could be associated with Islam and Christianity. It is to this absence that the title of my presentation makes reference to, and which I would like to reflect on for just a moment before moving forward.

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As Glórias desconhecidas do Imã: O silêncio, a ausência e o islamicate na Índia da Colecção Kwok On

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Por JASON KEITH FERNANDES

 

(Texto da conferência apresentada a 19 de Abril, 2017 no Museu do Oriente, Lisboa no âmbito do  ciclo A Índia Visual. PDF em português e PDF em inglês.)

 

Antes de mais gostaria de agradecer a oportunidade que me foi dada para estar, hoje, aqui.

 

Em primeiro lugar gostaria de agradecer, à minha colega do CRIA Inês Lourenço por me ter convidado a fazer esta apresentação. Tenho seguido a série Índia Visual durante algum tempo e sempre alimentei o desejo secreto de poder participarnesta plataforma. Por esta oportunidade Inês, muito obrigado.

 

Gostaria também de demonstrar a minha gratidão para com a equipa do Museu Oriente: Liliana Cruz, Sofia Lopes e Cátia Souto por todo o apoio prestado durante esta apresentação. Aproveito a ocasião para agradecer também a presença da orientadora da minha tese de doutoramento, a Professora Doutora Rosa Maria Perez. Por último, mas de modo algum por ordem de importância, quero de agradecer a presença de todos os que aqui estão presentes hoje.

 

Antes de entrarno assunto que hoje nostraz aqui, gostaria de fazer uma confissão: Quando recebi este convitefoi-me dito que teria a possibilidadede visitar a reserva do Colecção Kwok on e seleccionar uma peça, ou peças, sobre a qual gostaria falar.

 

Qualquer apreciador de arte sabe que visitar as reservas de um Museu é uma experiência única. Fiquei particularmente entusiasmado porque desta maneira poderia ter a oportunidade de confirmar se a minha intuição, sobre a natureza desta colecção, seria uma realidade ou simplesmente uma suposição . O meu pressentimento dizia-me queo núcleo dedicado à índia da colecção Kwok On seria um conjunto de objectos Hindus. Quer dizer, a Índia teria sido implicitamente entendida como ‘Hindu’ por quem constituiu acolecção. Infelizmente a minha intuição não me enganou. Na reserva da Colecção, encontrei um acervo extraordinário mas na sua maioria associado ao culto hindu. Ausente deste espólio, pelo menos na primeira vista, estão objectos ligados ao Islão e à Cristandade. Esta é a ausência a que se refere o título da minha apresentação – e sobre a qual gostaria de reflectir por alguns instantes.

LER MAIS

Representations ‘of’ and ‘by’ Muslims

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By JASON KEITH FERNANDES

Full English text of the presentation at the session: Representações do Islão e dos Muçulmanos nos Media (Representations of Islam and Muslims in the media), part of the Ciclo Islão em Debate (Islam in Debate series), 20 April 2017, at ISCTE –IUL, Lisbon. Download the PDF here.

 

I would like to begin by indicating that my area of expertise is not the study of Islam, or Muslims. Nonetheless I have quite an intimate experience of Muslims. Islam, and Muslims have also been critical to my own formation, both as an intellectual and the deepening of my own faith practice. This is perhaps not surprising given that questions of Islam have been debated substantially in the past couple of decades and produced a rich literature in a number of fields. My core area of intellectual work has been the operation of citizenship in India and the regime of secularism that apparently structures the experience of Indian citizenship. Given that Hindu nationalism has been on the rise for decades now, I realised that Christians in India faced the same challenges as did the Muslims in India; they were both seen as undesirable elements in the Indian republic. As such alliances between these various groups made eminent sense andthe belief that the best alliances are built on solid understanding gave me reason to the study various texts that I have referred to above.

 

There is also a personal aspect to this encounter. About a decade ago, a couple of friends and I began the Patna Collective. Among other things the Collective was interested in probing the issue of secularism in India. Was it possible that persons of faith rather than being barriers to secularism could in fact contribute to a secular society? Was religion necessarily an obstacle to the realisation of secularism? I was the lone Indian Christian among a number of Muslims in this group, and the conversations with them were critical to my experiences about Islam and Muslims. In the course of these interactions I realised that my learnings from Muslims allowed me to deepen my own faith practice as a Catholic allowing for a peculiar identification and affection for Muslims and Islam.

 

Finally, for some years now I have been interested in exploring the idea of the Islamicate. A neologism coined by Marshall Hodgson (1974), the term refers not to Islam or the religion itself, but to the socio-cultural complex where Muslims are dominant, or subjects of emulation. Exploring the Islamicate, I believe allows us to create a space where conversations between non-Muslims and Muslims can fruitfully take place. Where Islamophobia is replaced not by Islamophilia (just as problematic a stance) but where we can establish the contributions of Muslims, and see ourselves as partners with Muslims in the building of our futures.

 

To move on to the subject on which I have been asked to reflect; a mind that operates primarily in English reads the term ““Representações… dos Muçulmanos” in two ways. The first, is to read it as the intended representations of Muslims, and the second is representations by Muslims. I think it is important to deal with both these aspects for at least two reasons. We need to avoid a focus on Muslims from developing into a paternalist attitude, and from creatingspace for white saviours.What we need to do is deepen a rights discourse and as such the agency of Muslims too needs to be taken into account when we discuss representations.

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Is Camões Goan?

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By JASON KEITH FERNANDES

camoensSome months ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a discussion on Goan literature in Portuguese. Central to that discussion was the question of defining a canon of Goan literature in Portuguese. For example, where would the history of such a literature begin from? Who could be considered Goan for the purposes of constructing such a history? In the course of these discussions, a question was half-jocularly posed: could Camões be considered Goan?

 

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How the Archbishop should have turned the other cheek

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By JASON KEITH FERNANDES

 

Not too long ago, the décor of a recently-opened pub caused a ruckus in the city of Bombay. Styled “Goregaon Social”, the interiors of the pub made plentiful references to the Gothic aesthetic that marked a significant phase of Western European Christianity, and the neo-Gothic which has an intimate history with the city of Bombay. They included stained glass panels with the figures of Catholic saints, Gothic-styled pews for clients to sit on, and a variety of other paraphernalia that clearly references Catholic worship.

 

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The idyll that never was: Goa and the Indian elites

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By JASON KEITH FERNANDES

 

It was with anger and disbelief that I read Deepti Kapoor’s recent article in The Guardian titled “An idyll no more: why I’m leaving Goa”. While there is no denying that Goa is in fact facing a looming ecological and political crisis, what is galling is that Kapoor does not acknowledge her own role in the mess that Goans find themselves in. Kapoor is silent about the privilege that she enjoys – the privilege of the (largely North) Indian elites, who dominated British India, led the anti-colonial nationalist movement, and who now operate as the embodiment of colonial power in places like Goa. This is precisely the relationship that is to blame for the many ills that Kapoor documents, and that allows Kapoor to escape Goa with relatively no loss, while Goans are left not only with a ruined ecology and social fabric but a continuing brutal colonial relationship with India.

 

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Portuguese Citizenship and the Debugging of Indian Imaginations

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By JASON KEITH FERNANDES

 

I read with interest the recent opinion piece “The Portuguese nationality bug”  on the vexed issue of the rights of Portuguese Indians to Portuguese citizenship and was disappointed by the author’s refusal to see the larger picture. I suspect that this is because the author seeks to resolve the question within the narrow frames of Indian nationalism. As a result, the argument forwarded in the op-ed seems to buttress the rights of the state over those of citizens. Such legality will only strengthen the growing authoritarianism of the Indian state over subjects who, while formally citizens, increasingly lack the space to realize this condition.

 

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Electoral Options and a Politics of Alliances

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By JASON KEITH FERNANDES

 

What is undeniable about the current political climate in Goa is that there are a number of people who are desirous of change. Most of them are in fact singularly opposed to the return of the Congress, as well as the BJP. This is already a good start. The problem is that those who are translating desire into political action and setting up political parties are all after the same pie, and hopelessly divided.  It is this division, and the grandstanding in which each party will field its own candidate which, will ensure that the BJP will return to power. The fact that this singular fact has not seemed to percolate into the public rhetoric of the various parties, and that these various apparent opponents of the BJP are jostling each other suggests that we are in for very dark times indeed. Preventing this should be highest on our agenda.

 

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AAP Goa as Colonial Agent?

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By JASON KEITH FERNANDES

 

While large numbers of its members are no doubt motivated by a genuine interest in redressing the many ills that plague Goan electoral democracy, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Goa could in fact be seen as antithetical to the pressing needs of Goans,  pushing an agenda that other national parties, operating from Delhi have done before. If the traditional national parties like the Congress and the BJP had helped, with the help of local elites, to usher in forces of unbridled capitalism in the guise of development and Hindu nationalism in Goa, AAP seems to be operating within this same model. The only difference is that AAP promises that it will deliver Goa from rampant corruption. And yet, when examined from the perspective of the nexus between New Delhi and local dominant caste landed elites AAP’s claims of difference and salvation fall flat on its face.

 

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