The art of sensing moods mattered in precolonial South Asia. The eighteenth-century painters of Udaipur, a city of lakes in northwestern India, suggest that the moods of pleasure and prosperity mattered even more. The moods of grand-scale paintings, larger in size than manuscripts and portraits, which could be held in a single hand, emerged in the enchanting depictions of lime-washed palaces and durbars, abundant valleys and reservoirs, and thriving bazaars and temples. The painterly unfolding of stormy monsoons and scented springs, populated by the collectives of urbane men and women, enticed audiences to forge bonds of belonging to real locales in the present and of longing for ideal futures. These pioneering pictures sought to stir such emotions as love, awe, abundance, and wonder, emphasizing the senses, spaces, seasons, and sociability essential to the efficacy of objects and expressions of territoriality. In iterating exuberant and ephemeral atmospheres, painters viewed the moods of places as artistic, aesthetic, epistemic phenomena open to adaptation, admiration, and assimilation. Their memorialized moods confront the ways colonial histories have recounted Oriental decadence, shaping how a culture and time, architecture and art are perceived.
Dipti Khera is Associate Professor in the Department of Art History and Institute of Fine Arts at New York University. As a scholar of early modern South Asia, with interdisciplinary training in art history, museum anthropology, and architecture, her research and teaching integrate longue durée perspectives and Indian Ocean and Eurasian geographies, and foreground art history’s (re)making of colonized and racialized pasts. Khera’s The Place of Many Moods: Udaipur’s Painted Lands and India’s Eighteenth Century (Princeton, 2020, awarded American Institute of Indian Studies’ Edward Cameron Dimock, Jr. Prize) reveals powerfully immersive and politically contingent conceptions of a place’s moods. It raises broader questions about how ecologies, emotions, aesthetics, and artifacts operate to constitute histories and collectives. Her articles have addressed the crafting of colonial taste and design by Indian silversmiths; material histories of eighteenth-century pleasures; entangled mobilities and conceptual affinities between disparate maps and scrolls that enabled long journeys. Her collaborative work with Rajasthan’s museums has led to conservation, exhibition, and digital projects, including co-curating with Debra Diamond, A Splendid Land: Paintings from Royal Udaipur (opening in November 2022 at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art). With Sarah Betzer, she is co-editing a forthcoming volume for Journal18 (Fall 2022), “The ‘Long’ Eighteenth-Century?,” which explores from which vantage points, whether local, regional, or transregional, and for whom, is the eighteenth century long.