Monash University

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Śokha māte : the disparate development of Rabari and Mer contemporary art

posted on 2018-04-26, 04:10 authored by Peter Maddock
This thesis is an Anthropolgy of Art case study. In the main it is an ethnographic account of particular paintings and sculptures created by members of tow Hindu castes located in the Porbandar region of Gujarat, West India. Historically, the Mers by caste occupation are farmers and the Rabaris shepherds. For at leat the last millennisa, together they have constituted the majority of the population residing in the villages of the region. Their visual art, given caste differences, is therefore best described as the popular rural style. The ethnography is based on my own observations made in the region during two periods of fieldwork, March 1989 - February 1990 and February 1991 - April 1992. For much of this time I lived in the Rabari area (Kedā) of Ordar village, ten kilometres from Porbandar. My study has also drawn heavily on existing religious, anthropological and historical texts, which in turn, before and after the event, have informed my field observations. Through the explicit engagement with such texts, I also hope that my own work is given context within and makes some contribution to, the more general study of Indian art, religion and society. The main methodological contribution of the thesis, I hope will come from my use of the comparative method. I chose to make a comparative study, as very early on I became aware that whilst traditional art practices were still very much a part of the Rabaris' lifestyle, most Mers had abandoned them in favoour of new art styles that more expressed their modern identity. This I argue is a result of greater economic, educationak sand political development amongst the Mer population since India Independence in 1947. For many reasons the Rabaris have not enjoyed similar socio-economic development, and it is this that I contend holds the key to understanding why, unlike the Mers, their visual arts still express tradition rather modernity. In brief, my comparsion of the two castes' disparate socio-cultural development also sheds light on both the aesthetic and the supra-aesthetic forces propelling the contemporary revolution in the popular art of the region. The thesis is presented in two volumes. The chapters in the first volume are included largely to give a background for reading the second volume, wherein my discussion of regional art takes place. However, I also hope that my analysis of regional village life, religion, social values and history, in the first volume, will have wider interest. The chapters in volume tewo explicitly and implicity build upon the information presented in volume one, and in so doing attempt to give an anthropological understanding painting and sculpture, as well as the new genres that have broken with tradition.


Principal supervisor

Don Miller

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Department of Anthropology and Sociology


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Arts

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