Urmila Mohan is Bard Graduate Center/AMNH Postdoctoral Fellow in Museum Anthropology, a two-year appointment at Bard Graduate Center and in the Anthropology Division at the Richard Gilder Graduate School of the American Museum of Natural History. She has a deep knowledge of South and Southeast Asia, a theoretical foundation in the study of material and visual culture, and direct experience with materials as an artist. Her previous doctoral work at University College London was on cloth and clothing as devotional mediation in a Hindu group in India. With her current postdoctoral project she expands her research focus to include Hinduism in Southeast Asia in a museological context. Urmila has organized conferences and panels on the use of materials and visual imagery in relation to diverse issues such as ornament, nationalism, and subjectivation. She is a founder and editor of the Material Religions blog. Her teaching philosophy draws on a cross-disciplinary approach across the social sciences and arts and humanities.

The anthropologists Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson spent approximately two years (1936–38) in Bali, Indonesia, studying the kinaesthetics of performance, including everyday gestures and rituals such as trance. While their contribution to visual anthropology via the methodological use of photography and film has been studied, what is less known is their collection of Balinese objects. The AMNH’s Indonesian collection has a strong Balinese section with numerous cloth wrappers, mythological paintings, amuletic cloth drawings, and representations of textiles in other media such as puppets, offerings, and drawings, collected by Mead and Bateson. In her project, Urmila will study these objects and the ways in which they can be contextualized through museum archives and primary ethnographic literature in the Mead Ethnographic Archives (Library of Congress, DC). A critical study of field notes, films, and photographs may shed light on the changing values of cloth objects as they traveled from Bali to the West, indicate how cloth related to curatorial agendas in shaping a specific image of the Balinese, and provide a historical view of pre-World War II anthropology. Urmila’s research will culminate in a Focus Gallery exhibit and symposium in February 2018.

Publications include

“Religion and Ritual: The Modern Religio-colorscape” In Anders Steinvall and Sarah Street, eds. A Cultural History of Color in the Modern Age, London: Bloomsbury, 2018.

“Objecthood.” In The International Encyclopedia of Anthropology, edited by Hillary Callan, 1-6. Oxford: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., 2018.

“­When Krishna Wore a Kimono: Deity Clothing as Rupture and Inefficacy.” In The Material Culture of Failure: When Things Do Wrong, edited by Timothy Carroll, David Jeevendrampillai, Aaron Parkhurst, and Julie Shackelford, 39-55. London: Bloomsbury, 2017.

“Clothing as a Technology of Enchantment: Gaze and Glaze in Hindu Garments.” Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft 12, No. 1(2017): 225-244.

Author, with Jean-Pierre Warnier, “Editorial: Marching the Devotional Subject.” Special Issue of Journal of Material Culture on Religious Subjectivation. Submitted for publication.

“From Prayer Beads to the Mechanical Counter: The Negotiation of Chanting Practices Within a Hindu Group.” Archives de Sciences Sociales des Religions No. 174 (2016): 191-212.

“Dressing God: Clothing as Material of Religious Subjectivity in a Hindu Group.” In The Social Life of Materials: Studies in Materials and Society, edited by Adam Drazin and Susanne Küchler, 137-152. London: Bloomsbury, 2015.

Selected Courses
954 In Focus: Fabricating Power in Twentieth-Century Balinese Textiles

956 In Focus II: Fabricating Power in Twentieth-Century Balinese Textiles