Bazaar Art, Bazaari Women: Nautch, Bibis and Courtesans in Nineteenth Century Kalighat Paintings (Bengal)

A Talk by Prarthana Purkayastha

The second seminar in the CCL’s Postcolonial Theatre series, May 2023

Thursday 18 May 2023, 6pm BST (online)

This talk examines in parallel both visual and textual narratives that crafted fictions of erotic nautch dancers in nineteenth-century Bengal. The paintings analysed here were produced by indigenous artists in Bengal in the bazaars of Calcutta in the period 1870-1890, and are now renowned internationally as Kalighat art.

From the Victoria and Albert Museum’s archive of Kalighat paintings, I offer a close reading of the bodies of courtesans: exemplars of sexual deviance who posed a threat to the patriarchal institutions of colonial state and native family, in order to shed light on the social and moral anxieties that fed a growing anti-dance discourse in India.

The talk analyses, too, a nineteenth-century Bengali fictional satire by Kaliprasanna Singha and its depiction of illicit performances in Calcutta’s aristocratic milieu. A critical reading of passages from satires such as Hutom Pyachar Noksha (Sketches by an Observant Owl, 1861) shows how racism, casteism and misogyny co-produced the figure of the wanton and excessive subaltern female dancer in colonial Bengal.


Anurima Banerji will chair the talk.

Attendance is free but booking will be essential to receive a link to attend. BOOKINGS are now closed. 

Watch the recording of the seminar:

The participants:

Dr Prarthana Purkayastha is Reader in Dance and Performance Studies in the Department of Drama, Theatre and Dance at Royal Holloway University of London. She is the author of Indian Modern Dance, Feminism and Transnationalism (2014, Palgrave Macmillan), which won the 2015 de la Torre Bueno Prize and the 2015 Outstanding Publication Award from Dance Studies Association. She is co-editor with Anurima Banerji of the Oxford Handbook of Indian Dance (forthcoming with Oxford University Press-New York) and her second monograph, The Archives and Afterlives of Nautch Dancers in India, is forthcoming with Cambridge University Press.

Anurima Banerji is a poet and trained Odissi dancer, and Associate Professor in the Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance at the University of California Los Angeles. She is the author of the monograph Dancing Odissi: Paratopic Performances of Gender and State (Seagull Books/University of Chicago Press, 2019), recipient of the 2020 de la Torre Bueno Prize awarded by the Dance Studies Association. With Violaine Roussel, she co-edited How to Do Politics with Art (Routledge, 2017), and is currently co-editing The Oxford Handbook of Indian Dance with Prarthana Purkayastha.