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by Jayasinhji Jhala and Lindsay W. Powell
color, 45 min, 1995
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Whose Paintings? takes an ethnographic approach to recording an encounter between Alwin Belak, a Russian-Jewish-American collector of Rajput miniature paintings from India of the 16th-19th century, and Jayasinhji Jhala a Rajput Visual Anthropologist from India teaching at Temple University in Philadelphia.
Part confrontation and part collaboration, the event of viewing these paintings in an affluent Philadelphia apartment demonstrates the different points of view used by the two protagonists to engage with these cultural treasures. The emphasis of the art collector and the native ethnographer compliment and speak past each other. This dynamic, while providing particular information and insight about the subjects of art collecting, Rajput aesthetics, history, social custom and culture, suggest by the silent refrain generated by the discourse, inquiry into questions of cultural patrimony. What are the rights and obligations to individual, community, nation and to the world at large with regard to art traditions and to the possession and value of artifacts?
The video, while providing viewers a window into a specific encounter, allude by undercurrent, to the larger and more general problems surrounding the questions of collecting, sharing, salvaging, restoring, promoting, marketing and possessing objects that have a particular purpose and place in the culture that creates them from the one in which they are now found. The engagement hopefully makes the viewer reflect more critically about his or her possessions that grace the walls and space of the private domain we call home.
“This tape is innovative in style and provocative in content... I am certain other anthropologists, art historians and professors teaching cultural studies will be most interested in this fine work.” — Jay Ruby, The Center for Visual Communication