Cathleen Cummings

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF ART HISTORY          Office // AEIVA 231          205.934.7909
cathleen cummings

M.A., Ph.D., The Ohio State University

Areas of Specialization:  South Asian art history, especially Hindu temple architecture.  Cummings teaches art history from all regions of Asia, from the Neolithic through contemporary periods.

Cummings’ scholarly interests within South Asian art history include both the pre-modern and the modern eras.  She has completed substantial research projects on early Hindu temple architecture and on Hindu and Buddhist painting—traditional areas of study within South Asia’s vast pre-modern corpus—while her current and future research plans focus on the eighteenth century and concern some of the complex negotiations of identity that are worked out in public architecture and painting.  Issues of patronage (especially female patronage), audience, and reception, as well as the role of art and architecture in constructing social and political meaning, are central to her work.

Cummings’ book Decoding a Hindu Temple: Royalty and Religion in the Iconographic Program of the Virupaksha Temple, Pattadakal (recipient of the 2011 American Institute of Indian Studies’ Dimock Book Prize for best unpublished manuscript in Indian studies) is in contract with The South Asia Studies Association and will be published in late 2013.  The book interprets the iconographic program of the eighth-century Virupaksha Temple at Pattadakal, western India. Explorations of Hindu architecture continue in her work as Associate Editor of the volume The Architecture of Hinduism for Cambridge University Press’s forthcoming series, Cambridge World History of Religious Architecture, to be published in 2015.  She is also authoring four of the book’s essays, including an essay on “The Built Environment of Death and Cremation in Hinduism,” a research interest that Cummings is also exploring in relation to the development of Maratha samadhi temples (commemorative structures for a deceased person—someone who has passed into samadhi permanently—or a place where a realized soul entered into jivan-samadhi, a kind of living entombment).

Besides her focus on Hindu architecture, Cummings has been engaged with aspects of South Asian painting and illustrated manuscript traditions.  In 2011, her article, “Composition as Narrative: Sahibdin’s Paintings for the Ayodhyakanda of the Jagat Singh Ramayana” appeared in volume 40 of the journal Ars Orientalis.   She has also published on painting workshops supported by regional Maratha rulers, particularly at Nagpur where the Bhosle rule between 1743-1853 saw the production of many beautifully illustrated manuscripts.  Cummings has also worked on paintings associated with the Guhyasamaja Tantra of anuttarayoga tantra tradition of Vajrayana Buddhism, particularly in association with the exhibition Circle of Bliss:  Buddhist Meditational Art

One further research area that Cummings pursues concerns the transformation of traditional Indian arts and handicrafts into commodities for an urban, international, market.  In a variety of rural contexts across India, artistic traditions that once focused on providing an aesthetic dimension for domestic life have been redirected toward an external market.  These reinvented art forms represent a renegotiated adaptation of “traditional” arts.  Cummings’ interests in this area are primarily directed toward textile arts typically produced by rural women in domestic contexts but redeveloped to serve for urban and touristic markets.   

Cummings has directed Masters theses that range widely in subject matter and methodology.  She has also developed and led three study-abroad trips to South Asia. 

Cummings has been a Fulbright fellow, a Mellon Postdoctoral fellow, a fellow of the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute in Delhi, as well a recipient of numerous university awards and grants.