Mid-Study Presentation – Janhavi Dhamankar

Embodied Margins: Re-imagining the Mainstream

People affected by leprosy (PaL) are not just a statistical number, tucked away in some countries in the global south. They are also not invisible, just because most countries and governments claim to have eradicated leprosy. This is a unique marginalised community which falls through the cracks of social, economic, political rights and privileges even afforded to some other marginalised communities e.g. people with disabilities. Thus, I use the term embodied margins to highlight them as epistemic subjects
and artists.

Mainstream society refers to the majority or the popular depending on the context. Either way, it holds the power to devise policies for all. The word mainstream itself is metaphorical and comes from the mainstream of a river. However, the distributaries of the river, which in this analogy would bethe marginalised communities, cannot flow back into the mainstream. Mainstreaming practices by way of inclusion, integration can also be harmful and violent. Thus, I propose a re-imagining of the mainstream
itself - from a riverine model to that of a rhizome.

Since a rhizome (Deleuze and Guattari) implies non-hierarchical ways of thinking, a “constant search for new connections” and “multiple entryways and exits”, my research tries to find these pointes of entry between people for an interaction. I design empathy-practices using various artistic methods to uncover our biases, fears, stigmas which hinder an aesthetic interaction. Aesthetic is used as the opposite of an-aesthetic (Shelley Sacks). My practices aim to evoke an aesthetic response-ability in the participants through dialogue and celebrating differences.

Empathy-in-practice can be formulated as a method for the humanities and artistic research, which can involve movement, drawing, intervention, to name a few possibilities. Such a method offers a fresh perspective to view and adapt to the changing trends of meaning production and narratives, in rethinking our relations in the intersubjective field. Furthermore, by exploring the role of empathy through practice in shaping society, my focus is also on the cultural, socio-political everyday life situations and policies that affect leprosy patients.

Internal Supervisors and External Advisors: Gerhard Eckel (KUG), Deniz Peters (KUG), Brian Lobel (Rose Bruford College), Arno Böhler (University of Vienna / University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna)

Janhavi Dhamankar


Janhavi Dhamankar is an Indian classical dance (Odissi) performer, teacher, an artistic researcher, and a social sculpture practitioner. She designs and offers ‘empathy-practices’ in her current research to explore how we can treat social interaction itself as an artwork to re-shape, re-imagine ‘mainstream’ society. These practices include drawing, weaving, postcard writing, tea, dialogue, offered to marginalised communities viz. people affected by leprosy and college students from ‘mainstream’ society. She is thus the designer, facilitator, researcher employing a/r/t/ography.

Her recent publications include “Empathy-in-Practice: A Method for Artistic Research?” in Artistic research: Is there some Method? and a collectively authored piece “What is Refugee” in Crisis/Krisis, Performance Philosophy, special edition. She has taught philosophy at many leading colleges in Pune, India. She conducts workshops in dance, movement, Goethean Observation in India and Europe. She worked as the Editor and Content Generator for Pune Biennale 2017.