Sonali Dhingra wins UC Berkeley South Asia Art & Architecture Dissertation Prize for 2022

March 9, 2022
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Recent HAA graduate Sonali Dhingra has received the UC Berkeley South Asia Art & Architecture Dissertation Prize for her dissertation entitled Cult and Colossus: Buddhist Sculpture from Odisha in History and Memory (ca. eighth to twelfth centuries). The dissertation was advised by Professor Jinah Kim, George P. Bickford Professor of Indian and South Asian Art at HAA.

Dissertation Abstract: A careful analysis of the role of scale has scarcely found a place in South Asian art-historical writings, which are primarily concerned with iconography, eliding questions of materiality or context. This dissertation examines an overlooked corpus of colossal stone Buddhist sculptures that belong to Odisha (on India’s eastern coast). The ubiquity of large-scale sculptural carving at Buddhist sites in Odisha between the eighth and twelfth centuries compels us to consider when, how, and why a propensity for monumentality in stone carving at Buddhist establishments developed in this region. Studying this corpus of sculptures from material, phenomenological and archaeological perspectives sheds light on the ontological valence of cultic sculptures in South Asian Buddhist contexts.

This dissertation makes four contributions: 1) Theorizes the significance of scale in making and viewing the sculpted devotional image in South Asia, more broadly. 2) Clarifies the chronology and physical context of Buddhist cultic sculpture from Odisha. 3) Emphasizes the innovative role of unnamed artists and image-designers in making sculpture efficacious via material strategies such as monumentality and spatial depth. 4) Demonstrates that the medieval Indian Buddhist imagination apprehended Buddhist cultic icons, such as those of Bodhisattva Amoghapāśa (lit. ‘one who holds an unfailing noose), as “things,” animate and empowered mediators in worldly matters—active through their over-human scale, placement, style, iconography, and ritual consecration. The epilogue highlights how the phenomenological aspects of Buddhist sculptures participated and continue to participate in forging cultural memory and imagination of the past in Odisha.