Synopses & Reviews
India's epic poem, the Ramayana, is a dramatic, ever-evolving tale of a prince and his bride, their adventures and dilemmas, and demons. Joanna Williams studies the art of the Ramayana in Orissa, a region known for its elegantly carved temples. There she researched both literary and visual art works, interviewed artists, and observed them at work.
With depth and originality, Williams considers how Indian art tells a story in distinctive ways. Her narratological study takes into account many familiar genres of visual art: illustrated manuscripts, drawings on palm leaf paper, wall paintings, shadow plays, temple sculpture, and painted cloth pata. Included are discussions of pan-Indian versions of the epic, which include film, video, and the comic strip; and those local to Orissa, including rural theater and festivals.
Noting that we often treat images designed to be seen in sequence as separate pictures, Williams argues that considering several Ramayana images in sequence reveals their qualities of variety, surprise, and emotional development, promoting an understanding of how the story is told. She discusses the artists' narrative strategies and offers interpretations of how and why artists made their choices.
Williams persuasively argues against critics who believe that Indian art, indeed any traditional art, is conventional and lacks individual technique or vision. Her analysis across a variety of genres offers a new model for art historians; at the same time anthropologists, folklorists, and scholars of literature and narratology will find her work of great value.
"An elegant cross-disciplinary foray that, like Rama's monkey army, bridges the oceanic strait that too often separates the fields of Art History, Folklore, and Literary and Performance Studies. . . . A great boon to all who seek to better understand the creative genius of India."Philip Lutgendorf, author of The Life of a Text
"In this stunningly mature work, one of America's leading historians of Indian art explores the terrain whose longitude is word and whose latitude, image. . . . Here patron, temple, artist, story, period, genre, region, subregion, and even particular towns unite to produce a study that sends out light in every direction. It is the product of many years' labor, and a beautiful product it is."John S. Hawley, author of Devi
Includes bibliographical references (p. 195-202) and index.
About the Author
Joanna Williams is Professor of Art History at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of The Art of Gupta India: Empire and Province (1982) and co-author of Palm-Leaf Miniatures: The Art of Raghunath Prusti of Orissa (1991).