Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS)


VIRTUAL CSSA: Of Matchbooks and Gold Jewellery

29 April 2021, 4:00 pm–5:30 pm

Objects Across Borders seminar series posters

'Part of the Objects Across Borders series, reflecting on the stories embedded in visual and material artefacts, we are pleased to present Prof Mythri Jegathesan and artist Chinar Shah.

This event is free.

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Centre for the Study of South Asia and the Indian Ocean World

Mythri Jegathesan
Object: Matchbook

This talk is about an election campaign matchbook that a Tamil tea estate woman worker gave me ahead of Sri Lanka’s August 2015 Parliamentary Elections. I take this matchbook as an entry point to “watch” (Campt 2017) how a sensorium of plantation paternalisms nests in the materialities of Sri Lanka’s South-Central tea plantations. From generations of Indo-Lankan diplomatic encounters to ongoing struggles for labor justice, I consider how objects in Sri Lanka’s Hill Country such as this matchbook contain but also displace known histories of  workers’ struggles and demands for dignity. By presenting the paternalisms that nest in these objects, I ask how, if at all, watching them more closely might open us up to envisioning a politics of potentiality on Sri Lanka’s plantations.

Chinar Shah
Object: Gold Jewellery

Through a photographic practice, Shah engages in questions of ownership and divestment of gold jewellery at the intersections of gendered financial inclusion policies, patriarchal social norms of inheritance and female debt by looking at a few case studies from rural Tamil Nadu. Gold as an object chronicles memory of financial situations of a household in ownership and in loss. It is also an object of aspirations, desires and financial empowerment for women who bear a huge burden of debt without having any claim to other forms of assets. Through photographic explorations, Shah attempts to tell a complex tale of debt, micro credit and gold in rural India.

Part of the Objects Across Borders series, bringing together scholars and creative practitioners working in and on South Asia to reflect on the stories embedded in visual and material artefacts. This series is organised by Vindhya Buthpitiya (UCL) and Mallika Leuzinger (Princeton) and hosted by the UCL Centre for the Study of South Asia and the Indian Ocean World, and The Fung Global Fellows Program and Program in South Asian Studies at Princeton University.

About the Speakers

Mythri Jegathesan

Associate Professor of Anthropology at Santa Clara University

She has been conducting ethnographic research on plantation economies and gender and labor dynamics with Malaiyaka Tamil communities in Sri Lanka since 2008. She has published in anthropological journals such as Cultural Anthropology, Feminist Anthropology, Commoning Ethnography, and Anthropological Quarterly, and she is the author of Tea and Solidarity: Tamil Women and Work in Postwar Sri Lanka (University of Washington Press, 2019), winner of the 2020 Diana Forsythe Prize for the best book or series of articles on feminist anthropological research on work, science, and technology.

Chinar Shah

Artist, writer, and occasional curator

Her work deals with photography and its implications in moments of violence and conflict. She is the founder of Home Sweet Home - an exhibition series that uses domestic spaces to show works of art - and she taught at the Srishti Institute for Art, Design and Technology between 2014 - 2020 (Bangalore). She is also co-editor of Photography in India: From Archives to Contemporary Practice (Bloomsbury, 2018). She is currently working as an artist on a UKRI project on Debt in Rural Tamil Nadu.