Voices from the Fringe – Lecture at Rietveld

12th November 16.00 hours

‘Studium Generale’
Transdisciplinary Lecture Programme/
Gerrit Rietveld Academie

Lakshmi - The Funeral Singer

This lecture presentation will look at three individuals who are at the very bottom of the social and economic hierarchy in South India through excerpts from documentary films. Each has a voice with which to speak out. With all three individuals, this occurs in a ritual context, where the individual takes on a form greater or other than human to make it possible to transcend the role that society has forced them into in the course of their daily lives. The first is a maid in Mumbai and works for the filmmaker. The personal story reflects the hierarchy between the two until a dramatic moment in the narrative turns the maid into a goddess. The second is a lower caste woman who lives alone in a village in Tamil Nadu, a funeral singer who has articulated a language that others pay her money to hear. These two films have been made recently in India. The third is a man of a lower caste in a village in Kerala. In the course of the ritual, he acquires divine powers qualifying him to bless those in the hierarchy above him. The question we ask is: Are these traditional voices from the fringes essential towards the maintenance of the social order even in today?s fast altering fabric of India?