Humans, Animals, and Indian Ocean Art Histories in the Shadow of the Anthropocene

Image by Ann Danilina, via Unsplash
Friday 24 September 2021
9.00 - 11.00am (AEST)

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Online (Zoom)


University of Sydney’s China Studies Centre,
The Power Institute

An interactive workshop that meets at the critical intersection of art history, animal studies, environmental humanities and decolonial studies.

Following his public talk, titled With the “Gobble” of a Turkey: Visualizing Human-Animal Relations in the Indian Ocean World’, in this workshop Sugata Ray shares research from a forthcoming chapter on the arrival of an unknown New World animal – the American turkey – at the early-17th century Mughal court, recorded in a painting by the noted court artist Mansur. From a critical reading of this image of the animal’s presence in Mughal India, Ray explores a suite of questions pertinent to a range of disciplines. What does it mean, for example, for a non-Imperial actor to be interested in the Americas? Might one recover ‘an historical animal’ from an anthropocentric visual archive? Working at the critical intersection of art history, animal studies, environmental humanities and decolonial studies, Ray argues that histories of extinction, as well as colonialism, must be considered integral to the Anthropocene.

The workshop will begin with a short presentation by Sugata Ray, an invited scholar of the Sydney Asian Art Series, followed by four respondents who will speak from their respective disciplines and open a broader, trans-disciplinary discussion, with a view to future collegial collaboration.

This will be a small workshop, and your active participation is encouraged. It is organised by Olivier Krischer (Convenor, Sydney Asian Art Series) and Danielle Celermajer (Deputy Director, Sydney Environment Institute), at The University of Sydney, in consultation with Sugata Ray.


“From New Spain to Mughal India: Rethinking Early Modern Animal Studies with a Turkey, ca. 1612,” in Picture Ecology: Art and Ecocriticism in Planetary Perspective, edited by Karl Kusserow, 94–113. Princeton: Princeton University Art Museum and the Princeton University Press, 2021.


Sugata Ray is Associate Professor of South and Southeast Asian art in the Departments of History of Art and South & Southeast Asian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. His research and writing focuses on climate change and the visual arts from the 1500s onwards. Ray is the author of Climate Change and the Art of Devotion: Geoaesthetics in the Land of Krishna, 1550–1850 (2019; winner of the American Academy of Religion’s Religion and the Arts Book Award) and co-editor of Ecologies, Aesthetics, and Histories of Art (forthcoming) and Water Histories of South Asia: The Materiality of Liquescence (2020). He is currently writing a book on Indian Ocean art histories in the age of Anthropocene extinction.

Danielle Celermajer (Chair) is a Professor of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Sydney. Her research stands at the interface of theories exploring the multi-dimensional nature of injustice and the practice of human rights, focusing on the relational intra-space between human and non-human animals. Along with her multispecies community, she has recently lived through the NSW fires, writing in the face of their experience of the “killing of everything”, which she calls “omnicide”. Danielle is the Research Lead on Concepts and Practices of Multispecies Justice and has recently published her first trade book, Summertime: Reflections on a Vanishing Future (Penguin, 2021) to critical acclaim.

Rick De Vos conducts research in animal studies and anthropogenic extinction, in particular its cultural and historical significance and the way that it is articulated and practiced. He is an adjunct research fellow in the Centre for Culture and Technology at Curtin University in Western Australia, and before that coordinated the Research and Graduate Studies Programs at the Centre for Aboriginal Studies at Curtin. He is a member of the Extinction Studies Working Group, and has published essays on extinction in Knowing Animals (2007), Animal Death (2013), Extinction Studies: Stories of Time, Death and Generations (2017), and The Edinburgh Companion to Animal Studies (2018). He is currently editing a collection entitled Unsettling Subjects and Decolonising Animals, which is due to be published by Sydney University Press in 2022.

Ann Elias is Professor of Art History at the University of Sydney. Her research interests include: camouflage in art, war and nature; the cultural history of flowers; modernism and coral reef imagery; representations of the underwater; Sydney Harbour from the underwater. Books include Camouflage Australia: art, nature, science and war (2011), Useless Beauty: flowers and Australian art (2015), and Coral Empire: Underwater oceans, colonial tropics, visual modernity (2019).

Jennifer Ferng is a Senior Lecturer and architectural historian at the University of Sydney. She specializes in European architecture and the earth sciences during the long eighteenth century as well as contemporary architecture and politics in Oceania and Southeast Asia. These distinct research trajectories are centered around two projects: one on the cultural history of mining, design, and extraction during the global eighteenth century and the second on Australasian detention centres, shelter and humanitarian ethics. She has served as an editor of the journal Architectural Theory Review published by Routledge and a chief researcher with the Sydney Intellectual History Network.