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Meera Kumar Awarded Fulbright Research Grant to India

Meera Kumar, from Portland, Oregon, and a senior at Washington and Lee University, has been awarded a Fulbright research grant to India. Her project is “Artistic Depiction and Womanhood in Village Bengal.”

Her project will focus on the stereotyped image of village womanhood that she has found in studying the artists of the Bengal School who began to romanticize rural India in their paintings over a century ago.

“Outside the colonial sphere of influence, artists praised rustic communities for their innocence and healthy lifestyles while village women became symbols of fertility and vitality,” said Kumar. “The Bengal School coopted the feminine form for the sake of nationalist identity and in doing so began an artistic tradition of depicting the village woman and her body.”

Kumar will be affiliated with Kala Bhavana, the art faculty at Visva-Bharati University and will spend the duration of her Fulbright in the town of Santiniketan. Guided by Dr. Raman Siva Kumar, one of the preeminent scholars of early modern Indian art, she will be able to trace the development of artistic dialogue surrounding the village woman’s body over the past century.

“It was in Santiniketan that key members of the Bengal School such as Nandalal Bose received their training in the 1930s,” Kumar said. “Moreover, the rustic location allows for connections to local artisan communities while the close proximity to Kolkata offers the access to art galleries and relevant museum collections.”

“Meera will be an excellent cultural and academic representative of the United States in India,” said George Kunnath, lecturer in Modern Indian Studies at the University of Oxford, England. “She attended my lectures and tutorials on Culture and Society in India. She is a brilliant student, and a wonderful person with qualities of deep cultural sensitivity, respect and openness to differences. Meera is deeply concerned about the unequal gender relations in India and elsewhere. Her proposed research project is an innovative attempt at critically engaging with the stereotyped portrayal of rural women in artistic representations in India.”

“Meera reflects the best a liberal arts education can offer,” said Art Goldsmith, the Jackson T. Stephens Professor of Economics at W&L.  “She has taken insights gained from her studies of economics and art both at Washington and Lee and Oxford Universities to seamlessly integrate them into a compelling story of how art and economics can inform each other about womanhood in the village setting of India.

“Her creative energies, curiosity and work ethic will surely guide her as she seeks a deeper understanding of the lives of women in rural India as depicted through the eyes of artists associated with the Bengal School,” Goldsmith added. “I am certain that as a Fulbright Fellow Meera will be enriched by the culture she immerses herself in and will be a superb ambassador for the U.S.”

A major in economics with a minor in mathematics and art history, Kumar is an upper division resident advisor; was a visiting student’s rep at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford; member of English for Speakers of Other Languages tutoring immigrant women; received a Johnson Opportunity Grant to create databases of past auctions at Christie’s in London; and conducted gallery talks on modern Bengali art at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England.

She was awarded a Christian A. Johnson Endeavor Grant to engage in non-profit development work in Mongolia; was a finance intern in mergers and acquisitions with Laboratoires Protec in France; and built bio-sand water filters for primary schools through W&L Engineers Without Borders.

“As I’ve had the wonderful privilege of getting to know Meera over the last two years, I’ve come to admire her endless reservoir of intellectual curiosity that guides her as a researcher, but also as a congenial, engaged person,” said Melissa Kerin, assistant professor of art history at W&L. “Moreover, Meera is resourceful, very intelligent, industrious and capable. Indeed, Meera Kumar has all the wonderful qualities of both a budding academic and a world citizen.

“Not only does Meera have the skill set to carry out her finely crafted Fulbright project, but also to become a contributing and caring member of her scholarly community in Bengal. This is a student who is self-directed, has a remarkable ability to cultivate connection, and who feels a great responsibility as a global citizen; all indispensable qualities for a Fulbright scholar.”

“Little did I know that I was unintentionally preparing for the Fulbright during my four years at W&L–the classes I’ve taken, international experiences I have sought, and internships I have completed have all culminated in this opportunity,” said Kumar.

“The very fact that I am able to pursue an art history research grant as an economics major speaks to the strength of the interdisciplinary approach and liberal arts education that I have received at W&L,” Kumar said. “After completing my Fulbright, I hope to attend graduate school for public policy and eventually work on women’s health and reproductive rights. I am very grateful for this opportunity and immensely thankful to my family, faculty and friends for all of their support. “