Rigorosum – Janhavi Dhamankar

Embodied Margins: Re-imagining the Mainstream

Years of discrimination, integration/segregation, exclusion/inclusion, have shaped the territory of mainstream society and its margins. Perhaps in this struggle to somehow incorporate the margins, it is time to change the narrative of the mainstream itself? The image of mainstream society is evoked from its metaphor viz. the mainstream of a river which branches into distributaries. I propose a rhizomatic model (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987) which upholds multiplicities, as an alternative for (a) the current linear, mainstream ways of thinking and its (often violent) inclusive practices and (b) an artistic research approach to leprosy and marginalisation to uncover the (invisible) art of humane interaction.

Coupled with a dialogical (Bohm, 1996; Kester, 2005) approach, I engage (with) the margins viz. people affected by leprosy (PaL) in India, as not as a mere statistic or a “they” group, but as ‘embodied margins’ i.e. a marginalised person in relation to their context and others. Even with legal backing, PaL are shunned, encountering mainstream ‘mental leprosy’ a term encompassing stigma, ignorance, apathy, pity, prejudices from society. Leprosy affects nerves in the extremities of the body, causing loss of sensation. Mental leprosy, then is an apt term for the numbness of the heart and mind.
An expanded concept of art in which a social interaction itself can become an artwork (Kester 2011, Thompsett, 1960, Beuys in Harlan, 2004) and ‘aesthetic’ as the opposite of an-aesthetic (Sacks) emerge as an antidote to stigma which spreads mental leprosy. But how can we create aesthetic forms of social interaction to celebrate differences? (How) can such interactions help reduce the gap between mainstream and marginalised communities for a dialogue?

Researching these questions crystallised (Ellingson, 2011) into myriad forms:

(i) Empathy-practices between marginalised and mainstream participants using various artists methods to (a) critically reflect on our ableist attitudes and conditionings that become attitudinal barriers faced by marginalised people (b) evoking participants’ response-ability (Sacks, 2021) (c) go beyond acknowledging differences (which could lead to indifference, apathy or pity), emphasising differences (which is rather used for divisive purposes, classifications and categorisation), or looking for similarities to bond with each other to ‘celebrate' differences between people.

(ii) Through artistic collaborations exploring the conditions and elements of empathy viz. resonance, intersubjective space, materiality of the body, emotional and communicative capacities of the body, shifting meanings of conditioned concepts through embodied understanding, juxtaposing artistic practices as aesthetic mark-making strategies with stigma (also a marking strategy, albeit an othering practice).

My dissertation narrates two broad stories namely, of community engagement and my own understanding of marginality through embodied practice, which un/fold like branches of a snowflake, in multiple directions. My aim as a performer and social designer remains to create and hold the conditions of sahridaya for a community, shaping a resonant intersubjective space for shared meaning to evolve. Through this performance, I will weave together my shifting roles of artist/researcher/designer/performer/facilitator/collaborator. Linking these multiplicities is sahridaya i.e. the heart as an empathic medium to relate through our differences.

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, a doctoral candidate at The Doctoral School for Artistic Research (KWDS), University of Music and Performing Arts Graz (KUG), is a philosopher and a performer of Indian classical dance. Her current research, a meeting ground for Social Sculpture, Performance Philosophy, and Artistic Research designs empathy-practices to explore how empathy shapes integration of minorities. 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. An on-going project - Dance Dialogues - investigating personal meaning-making through gestures and sign language(s), has been shared as part of the publication “Practice Sharing II” by the Language-based artistic research group on https:// www.researchcatalogue.net/view/835089/2067852. Janhavi conducts empathy-practices, movement and Goethean Observation workshops in Europe and India. She worked as the Editor and Content Generator for Pune Biennale 2017.