Aastha Gandhi (Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)
Fellow in Research Area 2: "Travelling Matters"
July – December 2020
Reading Global Shifting Local: Idioms and Identities in Circus
Aastha Gandhi's research at EXC 2020 looks at the fundamental characteristics of the circus as a transtemporal and transcultural phenomenon. The project will trace the shifts in its circuits from the Colonial period to post-war and then Cold War contexts as well as to the globalised world after the end of the Cold War. For the Indian circus, Cold War alliances and networks were particularly important in the postcolonial context, while globalisation and neo-liberalism have, paradoxically, led to its decline and a loss in its global scope. With the postcolonial rejection of the study of European circuses, which effected a shift towards the local and the national, there is a major lacuna in circus studies regarding colonial circuses and their trajectory in postcolonial nations. Using the framework of temporal communities and looking at the circus as a temporal phenomenon, the project will investigate a transcultural form in its postcolonial and globalised context.
A comparative study of India and Germany will form the centrepiece of this project, as it will take into account the respective cultural policies and their impact on popular forms like the circus, which is after all a capitalist commercial venture. The temporal communities of circuses will be further defined in distinction to other theories of community and networks, by pinpointing relevant similarities and differences between the circus and notions of community derived from broader and more general settings. The aim of this project is not simply to explore the potential of the investigated communities by locating them in their respective networks, but to open up alternative perspectives by delving into larger debates about the collective experience of artists as performers and citizens, and notions of transnationality, community interest, or cultural value, which transcend domains of difference and feed into their experiences of race, gender, class, and most importantly, of nations.
Aastha Gandhi is a PhD candidate in theatre and performance studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, and a trained dancer. Her practice and proficiency in dance informs her understanding of the performative, and her practical and theoretical knowledge underwrites the methodological perspective for her work on the circus as well as on other performance genres. As the holder of a degree in law, Aastha Gandhi is a visiting lecturer at Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, where her teaching covers legal questions in relation with art and cultural practice. She has previously taught as a teaching fellow at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Ashoka University, and is a teaching assistant at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University. She has presented her research at various international conferences. Her recently published essays include: "From Postcolonial to Neoliberal: Identifying the Other Body in Indian Circus" (in: Performance Matter, 2018), "Laws and Marginalized Bodies: Sex Trafficking, Child Labour and Circus as a Site of Negotiation" (in: Gendered Citizenship: Manifestations and Performance, 2017), "Of Aerialists, Hippos, Clowns, and Clouds – the Perils of Survival in Indian Circus" (in: Circus Histories and Theories, forthcoming).