The French program Autoritas, a project funded by PSL (Paris Sciences & Lettres University), is focused on the study of the relationship between modes of authority and aesthetic practices from South Asia to Southeast Asia.
The project is conducted jointly by four French research units: The CASE (Center for Southeast Asian Studies), the CEIAS (Center for South Asian Studies), the LAS (Social Anthropology Laboratory) and the GSRL (Societies, Religions & Secularities Group). By opening a dialogue among historians, art historians, epigraphists and archaeologists on the one hand, and anthropologists and ethnomusicologists on the other, the EHESS, the EFEO, the Collège de France and the EPHE pool their resources to bring together research results coming from a multidisciplinary approach aimed at examining the relationship between the aesthetic phenomenon and authority.
Aesthetic practices, in their material and immaterial manifestations, are often associated with modes of legitimation of authority, whether political, religious, or of some other type. From South Asia to Maritime Southeast Asia, aesthetic forms and practices, be they visual, musical, choreographic, theatrical, or narrative (or a combination of these), contribute to the establishment of legitimacy. Over time, arts have undergone various forms of circulation, valorization, devalorization, interdiction, reinvention, re-appropriation, and emulation. Sometimes censored, they have also encouraged resistance and challenges to established authority.
From the dances and orchestras in palace pavilions and the singing troupes affiliated with temples to the towering statuary of the great Hindu-Buddhist monuments, from origin narratives to the four-color wood engravings produced by some Austronesian societies, how can we understand this array of aesthetic forms in relation to authority in societies ranging from kingdoms and sultanates to statelessness? These aesthetic forms and practices all have something in common: they are inextricably bound up with certain modes of politico-religious efficacy. What is at stake, then, is to think about the nature of this efficacy as it relates to authority—very broadly understood at this preliminary stage as that which makes it possible to maintain a social order. We will also think about the suppression of these aesthetic forms, some of which are still banned today.