The India Study Abroad Photography Exhibit has kicked off its lecture series in the International Arts Center (IAC) with a presentation by Jay Valentine.
Valentine, an associate professor of philosophy and religion, led 11 students in their trip across north central India over three weeks in summer 2017.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness,” Valentine said, quoting Mark Twain in the opening of his presentation.
“The exhibit that is up currently — and it’s up until sometime in November — was put together by Professor Leach,” Valentine said about Beverly Leach, the curator of the project and a lecturer in art and design. “What she did was she asked for each of us (participants) to send her a certain number of photos that had a theme.”
Zach Bias, a junior communication major from Jacksonville, Florida, focused on Buddhist iconography and the Great Buddhist Statue at Bodh Gaya in his photo compilation.
“A lot of landmarks and monuments that we went to, they were associated with Buddhism,” Bias said. “(They) were really beautiful, so when it came time to choose my topic or what I wanted to really present, I chose Buddhism just because I thought there was a lot more aesthetically pleasing things (about it) and also just kind of a peaceful vibe that came out of that.”
In his presentation, Valentine expanded on the theme of his cluster of photos.
“Mine are all what’s called a Shiva Lingam, which is an iconic representation of Shiva, the Hindu god, so I took a lot of pictures of those,” he said.
Valentine compared the artistic representation of Shiva as a phallus to highlight the god’s virility with the monotheistic representations of their god as celibate. However, Valentine explained, many Hindus worship the phallic idols of Shiva without realizing the body part they portray, similarly to the way Catholics rarely imagine themselves literally eating body of Christ during communion.
The photographic images of the exhibit are accompanied by several large prints taken by Leach and videos from the trip that run on three monitors.
“My role as a curator was visually giving continuity to so many different visual points of view,” Leach said. “I wanted this to have sights and sounds of India, whether it’s through music or street clips of wedding marches, musicians, outdoor hotels that we stayed at.”
According to Leach, the idea for the lecture series came out of her desire for cross-discipline dialogue about India and inspiration from the new art building itself.
“A lecture series, I felt, utilized our space beyond just the art department to the university community at large,” Leach said. “So people of other disciplines hopefully can collaborate more and think of these kinds of exhibitions that tap into research and visual art together.”
Leach presents the next lecture in the series on Oct. 11 at 4:30 p.m. in the IAC, focusing on curating as a career field as well as imagery in context. Her presentation will be followed by Priya Menon, an associate professor of English, and her research on Indian Diaspora and its literature in the Arabian Gulf in the IAC on Oct. 26 at 3:30 p.m.
“Dr. Priya Menon, who is a Fulbright scholar, and her research on India … I thought, what (is) a better environment for her to share her research with the university at large, (than) surrounded by images of India,” Leach said.
The lecture series will finish off the semester with a final student presentation on Nov. 11 at 4 p.m. in the IAC.
Shreya Thumma, a sophomore computer science major from Hyderabad, India, said that seeing the photographs in the exhibit made her want to travel to her homeland more.
“It was great. I just loved hearing about his experience and how he answered questions by the audience,” Thumma said about Valentine’s lecture. “It was interesting.
“I got to know some stuff about religion too.”
The India Study Abroad Photography Exhibit will be available for viewing at the IAC until Nov. 20.