2007, 2008, 2014
Melissa R. Kerin
- Assistant Professor
- Washington and Lee University
Re-Tracing Lines of Devotion: Religious Identities and Political Ideologies of Fifteenth- Through Seventeenth-Century Western Himalayan Wall Paintings
A set of sixteenth-century Buddhist wall paintings in the Tibetan cultural zone of northwest India's Kinnaur District serves as the focus of this project. Addressing a neglected period and virtually unknown body of work, this dissertation defines and analyzes the transregional dynamics influencing western Himalayan art production and reception in both late medieval and present-day milieus. By employing an interdisciplinary approach that combines traditional art historical methodologies with inscriptional translation, ethnographic documentation, and theoretical inquiry, this study discerns the multilayered contexts that circumscribe these polysemic images. This project serves as a non-Western case study addressing concerns central to a number of humanistic disciplines, including identity formation, semiotics and reception, and ritual praxis. Moreover, this project contributes to recent scholarship that is producing integrated and contextualist methodological approaches for the study of religious images that continue to remain in active use within their communities.
Articulating a Visual Language: Style and Visuality in West Tibet’s Medieval Wall Paintings
This is the first monograph-length study of post-fifteenth-century Buddhist wall paintings in the Western Himalayan region. An extension of the dissertation, this project takes the form of a much-needed synthetic study of the wall painting tradition employed in West Tibet during the fifteenth through seventeenth centuries. Scholars have largely overlooked these murals as significant historical records, relying instead on textual sources to shed light on West Tibet’s rather opaque history. Through a critical analysis of these paintings, this study articulates the contours of a late medieval painting style, provide insight into the region’s socio-political history, and contribute to broader art historical discourses on visual language and the cultural practices of visuality.
Materiality of Tibetan Buddhist Shrines: Devotional Objects and Ritual Agents in Tibet, Western Himalaya, and US
The aim of this project is to complicate the idea of “the” Tibetan Buddhist shrine—a structure that is often oversimplified and/or romanticized in both scholarly and popular imagination—by turning attention to its complexity as a monument, which manifests in a wide range of forms depending on its geography. The research looks at shrines in three different regions on three analytical and distinct levels, aimed at better assessing the relationships between object, production/circulation, and ritual agent. By so doing, this interdisciplinary, diachronic, and transregional project demonstrates that shrines operate within complex systems of meaning production responsive to and reflective of multiple socio-religious environs of Tibetan Buddhist cultures.