TITLE: The Changing Worlds of the Patuas of West Bengal
SPEAKER: Frank Korom
EVENT DATE: 2006/10/11
RUNNING TIME: 69 minutes
Frank Korom, professor at Boston University, presents a talk on "The Changing Worlds of the Patuas of West Bengel," as part of the Benjamin Botkin Lecture Series sponsored by the American Folklife Center. In his program, he discusses the changing world of Patuas, a community of itinerant scroll painters and singers residing in Medinipur District, West Bengal, India. The lecture elaborates on how these impoverished artists are now adapting to modernity by expanding their repertoires to include contemporary social and political issues, such as communal violence in India, religious identity construction, HIV prevention and even 9/11 and the recent tsunami. Originally they were low-caste Hindus who converted en masse to Islam, but as a result of them singing praise songs about Hindu gods and goddesses for Hindu patrons, they have not become fully accepted into the Muslim Ummah. At the same time, however, they are not fully accepted by Hindus because of their low-caste status and tendency to eat beef. As a result, they live perpetually on the margins of Bengali society. However, they are able to use their marginality to negotiate their identities locally as well as globally, now that they have become transnational citizens whose work is being recognized in museums and universities around the world. In his lecture, Korom argues that the Patuas have not totally succumbed to the process of mimicking their newfound western patrons by becoming "modern" along the lines expected by Euro-Americans. Rather, the Patuas have been able to craft a form of alternative modernity that appeals aesthetically to a western audience but without completely deviating from traditional Bengali canons of popular performance.
Speaker Biography: Frank J. Korom is an associate professor of religion and anthropology at Boston University. He is the author and editor of eight books, including "Village of Painters" (2006). His earlier book titled "Hosay Trinidad: Muharram Performances in an Indo-Caribbean Diaspora" (2003) won the Premio Pitre, awarded annually by the Center for Ethnohistory in Palermo, Sicily. His book "South Asian Folklore: A Handbook" was published by Greenwood Press in April 2006. In 2004-2005, he was a Fulbright Senior Research Scholar in India, where he conducted fieldwork on itinerant scroll painters in rural West Bengal. This project culminated with an exhibition at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe that opened October 29, 2006. Korom received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2006 to continue his work in this area.
SERIES: Benjamin Botkin Lecture Series