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Ruth Morris Bakwin Art Lecture “Waterless Sea: a Cultural and Political History of Mirages”

  • Collins Cinema, Wellesley College 106 Central Street Wellesley, MA, 02482 United States (map)
  Photo: Abdul Hamid II, metamorphic postcard by PFB Verlag, early 20 th  century.  

Photo: Abdul Hamid II, metamorphic postcard by PFB Verlag, early 20th century.  

Wellesley College’s Art Department is happy to welcome Christopher Pinney for a lecture on the cultural and political history of mirages.

Fata morgana have long astonished travellers. They are an unusual and complex form of superior mirages that are seen in a narrow band right above the horizon. Chinese and Japanese poetry and images depicted fata morgana as exhalations of clam-monsters; however, Arab, Persian and Indian sources related “inferior” mirages to the “thirst of gazelles,” a metaphor for the nullity of desire. Mirages have been observed wherever there have been sufficient temperature gradients to generate the necessary refraction. Primarily, this lecture will focus on eastern or “Oriental” mirages that frequently conjoin the desert, Island, and the Ottoman Empire. Pinney will also explore the way in which recent fata morgana (such as ones seen in Guandong in 2015) feed into modern conspiracy theories that repeat the clash between “spectatorial” democracy and its occluded other. Finally, Pinney will discuss the philosophical importance of mirages, which are “real” but not “true.”

Christopher Pinney is a renowned anthropologist and art historian. He is a Professor of Anthropology and Visual Culture at the University of College London. He is known for his studies on the visual culture of South Asia, specifically India. He has published many books and has collaborated with numerous journals and other publications. 

Generously Supported by the Dr. Ruth Morris Bakwin Class of 1919 Art Lecture fund.