Tag: Mughal India

Ladies of the Zenana on a Roof Terrace

Ladies of the Zenana on a Roof Terrace

Ladies of the Zenana on a Roof Terrace
Artist: Ustad (Master) Ruknuddin
Date & Location: c. 1666, Bikaner
Media: Watercolour, ink, and gold on paper
Where can I see this artwork? Metropolitan Museum of Art (not currently on display)

Significance to Queer Art History

A piece such as Ladies of the Zenana on a Roof Terrace makes us ask the question: what qualifies as ‘queer art history’?

Ustad Ruknuddin was a master painter at the Rajput Court of Bikaner between 1650-1697. His patron was Maharaja Anup Singh. In its historical context this painting is rife with political commentary, and it is a hybrid of Mughal and Rajput painting traditions. It was likely commissioned to present the women as luxurious goods and signifiers of Anup Singh being an insan-i kamil (an ideal man and ruler).

Laura Mulvey has written about “the male gaze” — and her scholarship has many critics and successors. Considered in its historical context, this painting is well-suited to an analysis of “the male gaze” and the representation of women by men for the pleasure of other men.

But this painting also still exists. It is in the Metropolitan Museum right now. I would propose that we can queer (verb) this painting. Contemporary lesbian viewers might also connect to — and derive pleasure from — this 17th century representation of intimacy and affection between two women.

What’s to stop us from claiming the contemporary “lesbian gaze” and bringing this piece into our own ‘art hirstory’ collections?

Interactions between contemporary lesbian (or otherwise “heterosyncratic”) viewers and this painting could create new meaning(s) and give it new relevance.

Shared Vocabulary

The term “heterosynchratic” is adapted from the work of Karma Lochrie to imply all gazes beyond the cis-heteronormative “male gaze.”

Mulvey’s “the male gaze” focuses on the way film is designed “according to male fantasies of voyeurism and fetishism,” and it is easily applied to other media, such as painting.

Resources

Chaudhuri, Shohini. Feminist Film Theorists: Laura Mulvey, Kaja Silverman, Teresa De Lauretis, Barbara Creed. London: Routledge, 2006.

Kim, Dorothy. “Remaking History: Lesbian Feminist Historical Methods in the Digital Humanities,” in Bodies of Information: Intersectional Feminism and Digital Humanities,
ed. Elizabeth Losh and Jaqueline Wernimont, 131-156.

Lal, Ruby. “Hierarchies of Age and Gender in the Mughal Construction of Domesticity and Empire.” In : University of Chicago Press, 2008.

Lochrie, Karma. Heterosyncrasies: Female Sexuality when Normal Wasn’t. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005.

Manlove, Clifford T. “Visual “Drive” and Cinematic Narrative: Reading Gaze Theory in Lacan, Hitchcock, and Mulvey.” Cinema Journal 46, no. 3 (2007): 83-108. Accessed April 2, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/30130530.

Ramos, Imma. “‘Private Pleasures’ of the Mughal Empire.” Art History 37, no. 3 (2014): 408-427.