From Postcolonial to Neoliberal: Identifying the “Other” Body in Indian Circus

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From Postcolonial to Neoliberal: Identifying the “Other” Body in Indian Circus

This article is part of my ongoing doctoral research work, A Critical History of Indian Circus, Performers and Performance Acts: Negotiations with Popularity, State and Laws (1947–2015), which aims to map a history of circus practices in postcolonial India and view them within a larger field of cultural practices. As part of my research I am focusing on creating an inventory of circuses in recent times and closely studying how acts, historically and in the contemporary repertoire, have been affected by changing state policies and laws.1
In this article, I identify the different performative codes, reception, and subsequent discourse built around the multiracial bodies present in Indian circuses across different periods. From Russians and Europeans in the twentieth century to Africans, Mongolians, Eastern Europeans, and other Asians in the twenty-first, the presence of bodies of different ethnicities in Indian circus has been a major factor in its rise and acceptance as a popular form. Taking the two key historical moments of Indian circus—its growth in the early twentieth century and its deterioration from the late twentieth century until the present, when racial differences in the circus arena are not only recorded but become prominent in the larger cultural discourse—I look at the presence of the white woman’s body and read it vis-à-vis the nonwhite local body, marking two perspectives to view the gendered body under nationalism/postcolonialism and globalization/neoliberalism and studying what becomes the...
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Aastha Gandhi

Aastha Gandhi is a Ph.D. in theatre and performance studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, and has a Doctoral Fellowship at the Temporal Communities- Cluster of Excellence program, Freie University, Berlin. Aastha’s area of research engages with the circus, networks, laws and discourses of the performing body. Her recently published essays include: From Postcolonial to Neoliberal: Identifying the Other Body in Indian Circus (Performance Matter, 2018), Laws and Marginalized Bodies: Sex Trafficking, Child Labour and Circus as a Site of Negotiation (Gendered Citizenship: Manifestations and Performance, 2017), while forthcoming publications include The Indo-Soviet Circus Exchange amidst the Cold War: a state propaganda or a people’s art form? (Rouledge). She has been practicing Odissi dance for over two decades and her choreographic work, performances and master classes have been hosted in New York, Angérs, Singapore, Belgrade, Hong Kong, Brisbane, Osaka and Bangkok. Her practice and proficiency in dance have helped her cultivate an understanding towards the performative and phenomenological bodies, and the reading of it. These extend into a methodological perspective for her work on circus and other performers and performance genres. A degree in law adds to Aastha’s research which investigates negotiations of citizenship between state and judiciary, and places the circus at the centre of the debate of child labour and animal rights. Aastha has taught as a visiting lecturer at Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, where her teaching covered laws related with art and cultural practice. She has also taught as a Teaching Fellow at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Ashoka University, and at School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University. She has presented her research work at various international conferences include IFTR World Conferences; Shanghai, Belgrade, Stockholm, Hyderabad; PSI-Hamburg; Circus Histories and Theories Conference, Johannesburg; and Circus and its Others Conference, Montreal, World Dance Alliance Conference; Singapore, France, Australia and Hong Kong. Aastha is a researcher for the ongoing "Cultures of the Left", and the recently completed "Gendered Citizenship" – both projects between her home institute and University of Warwick, UK. She is also a researcher for the ongoing EduVEnture Cologne (IVAC) project on Democratizing Public Spheres between Universität zu Koln, Germany, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Chile and her home institute. She is a recipient of partial award for International Graduate Seminar on Dramaturgy of Research & Research Creation at Concordia University, Montreal. She currently serves as a Member (Student Representative) on the Executive Committee of International Federation for Theatre Research.