CALL for PROPOSALS 2010 (Closed)
Short-term Fellowships of
The Cluster of Excellence – Asia and Europe in a Global Context:
Shifting Asymmetries in Cultural Flows

Heidelberg University, Heidelberg, Germany
On the theme: Circulation of Popular Images and Media in Muslim Religious Spheres

The Fellowships have been awarded - kindly see the list of fellows here.

“The Cluster of Excellence, Asia and Europe in a Global Context” invites proposals for short term fellowships from scholars, researchers and practitioners of popular arts and culture for multi-disciplinary and multi-media projects of research and documentation on theme of popular visual cultures and practices in and around Muslim shrines and public spaces, with an emphasis on the transcultural flows as emerging in the globalised contemporary popular arts and media.

The proposals have to keep in mind (1) the research agenda of the Cluster of Excellence – Asia and Europe in Global Context, attached here or available at the website (, and (2) the brief given below about the specific theme of this short fellowship. Please remember: the last date for the receiving of proposals by email is 30th June 2010 (12 midnight India time).

An Eid greeting card, printed at Lahore, early 1940s (from the Priya Paul Collection)

Theme: Circulation of Popular Images and Media in Muslim Religious Spaces
Muslim public spheres in India/South Asia exhibit a wide array of image practices such as calendar and poster art, devotional framed pictures, portrait photography with artificial backdrops, illustrated covers of religious chapbooks and magazines, besides innovative wall murals and printed notices, all of them incorporating popular icons of Mecca, Medina, local Sufi shrines, saints, Shia symbols, and Arabic calligraphy. Besides these, one also finds religious narratives in popular recorded media such as audiocassettes, video CDs/DVDs, and now the cell-phone software. Much of this popular visuality and ephemera circulate around institutions such as Sufi shrines or mosques in south Asia, although these may not be limited to only one shrine area or a city. One may also find inter regional connections between shrines of different towns and villages through the passage of these media to wider areas.

Although much of these mass duplicated images and media may have their origins in the traditional religious performative practices of the pre-modern era, the impact of new technology and media, especially derived from outside their local spaces, has altered the way religious devotion is practiced today. One could highlight this with an example about the mobility and transformation of Muslim shrines, saint portraits and relics through images and media on the Indian subcontinent (although by no means do we wish to limit the regional focus to India but explore transnational and transcultural flows!). Usually a Sufi shrine holds the original grave or relic of a specific saint that cannot be replicated anywhere else (unlike a Hindu deity whose idol or replica shrine can be recreated in other locations too). Thus the visit to a particular Sufi shrine has its unique value for a pilgrim for its originality. But the mass duplicated images of the same can easily be made and have been in circulation for a long time, making a shrine or relic mobile beyond its original location. There are evidences of hand drawn illustrations of Sufi shrines and saint portraits being made available before the onset of print in India. The printing industry, especially of colour posters and other types of images made the mass produced images of Sufi shrines even more accessible and popular. The photography has added newer dimension to this visual culture where an odd photo of a saint is used again and again to make drawings and even idols, such as in the case Sai Baba of Shirdi.

Through this multi disciplinary project involving several researchers, we wish to go a few steps further from the nexus of photography, painting, and printed posters, to study the newer practices of the use of “original” images for the creation of new mediated material such as collage posters, videos, animation and even Internet-based presentations that seek newer generation of devotees and their popular piety. A typical example of this would be the production of popular devotional videos about Sufi shrines that are basically music videos with a performer/Qawwal singing a new song seeking the saint’s blessing, dramatically videographed in a studio or staged settings, interspersed with the vérité shots of the actual shrine – the two of which can sometimes be very different in style and quality. There can be several such examples from the contemporary popular culture of Muslims in India. Thus, we invite you to be a part of a larger project by contributing with your specific research about a shrine, institution or public space that is witnessing the production of popular images and media and getting altered through transcultural impact.

As the end result of this round of fellowships, we plan to hold an event in Delhi (c. spring 2011) where you would be invited to present your work in the form of a lecture, exhibit or a video show.

Who is eligible to apply?
This fellowship is meant for any individual or group who has access to unique collections of popular art material available in private or public spaces, anywhere in the world. There is no bar of age or educational qualification, as long as you are capable of conducting the entire research/documentation on your own, and can possibly provide a context to your work in the form of a text report or essay in English.

What would a fellow be expected to do?
You are free to carry on your research/documentation in any manner that suits your subject. However, we would encourage projects that stress on trans-culturality and use unconventional methods of research and presentations, such as using images, videos, maps, and innovative media that can be combined to create a larger networking. The Cluster may present some advice or guidelines on how you could go about conducting your fellowship. The period of six months available for the fellowship work includes the making/organizing of your arts collection, writing a report/essay about it, presenting your work in a workshop at Delhi in the spring of 2010, and make your findings available for a publication of the Cluster either on the web or through print. Although you are not required to physically visit any of our offices during the research period (except for the final workshop in Delhi), you must constantly keep in touch with us via email by reporting the progress or status of your work. The final submission of your resulting materials and report must be made on or before 31st December 2010.

You could either send the artworks to us (at your cost) for digitization, or digitize it yourself using the guidelines suggested by us. Currently, Cluster does not provide the facility for the physical storage of the specimens. Cluster will also not provide the facility to “restore” the artworks. You shall be responsible for acquiring any copyright permission (and related documents) if required for the artwork.

What does the Cluster fellowship provide you?
Although you can send us a detailed estimate of what your documentation would cost, Cluster can provide a maximum of 1,000 Euros (or its equivalent in the local currency) to each approved project. This amount includes all costs such as research, travel, acquiring of artwork, sending of the material to Cluster, writing of the essay, fees to be paid to any third party, and so on. In case you wish to do the digitization/scanning of images yourself, no extra funds would be available for that. The fellowship amount would be paid to you in two installments: (1) at the time of the signing of agreement: 50%, (2) after the approval of your final submitted material: 50%. For those in India, taxes as levied by the government of India would be applicable to the fellowship payment. You should also have a PAN number and a bank account in India in order to receive the fellowship payment. For candidates outside India, other tax rules or restrictions may apply depending on the local regulations.

What the fellowship will not support?
We would not support any infrastructural costs such as setting up of an office, buying of equipment, daily meals, or per diem costs, etc. The fellowship will also not support the making of new artworks by an artist. Cluster is not in a position to purchase the art work from the collector. In exceptional cases, if a fellow requires a larger sum of money to buy a unique collection of art, Cluster would have the right to own that material.

We are currently NOT looking for the strictly traditional art forms such as folk arts, classical arts, or art with archaeological importance, unless any of these reflect the change or transformation brought about by modernity, urbanization, the interventions of mass-mediated technologies, and so on. In fact, your objective of the research need not be strictly the documentation or collection of a certain art form. It could even involve contextualizing certain trends of popular aesthetics, such as “politics or economics of popular art”, or “aesthetics of election campaign” and so on.  However, Cluster will not support a highly subjective/creative presentation or interpretation of popular culture devoid of any empirical analysis.

What should your proposal contain?
Although we encourage you to write your proposal in any manner that enables you to clearly state your objectives, some of the following should be provided:

  • Working title of the project
  • Short introduction (one paragraph)Background/(cluster and other) Objectives/relevance (1-2 pages)
  • Detailed Activities/Timeline planned
  • Requirements/estimated cost/budget
  • What has earlier been done on this artwork/subject? Provide a short survey of the available material (maybe a bibliography). How is your project unique?
  • What makes you the best person to do this project?
  • A summary of the proposal (max 300 words)
  • A brief résumé

You may also provide the following with the proposal:
Sample of art work (photos, prints, video, text etc.) maximum 3 specimens (preferably, in the form of an email attachment - you may even direct us to an Internet site where such art specimens are displayed).
Names and addresses of two people in the field who know you, and will be willing to write brief letters of reference if required.

Kindly send your proposal and all the materials by email to the following addresses. The attachments in the email should not exceed 2 MB. If you wish to send more/larger attachments, kindly send them in separate emails, giving similar subject lines, and giving a list of all attachments in one/first email.

Deadline for receiving the proposals: 30th JUNE 2010

Before sending the final detailed proposal, you could also send us a small (one-page) synopsis of what you wish to do – to get an idea of whether it truly fits into the agenda of the Cluster.

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