Natasha Kimmet: Buddhist Clay Sculpture Production in the Shahi Kingdoms

This project offers a critical investigation of the clay heads and sculptural fragments attributed to Akhnur and Ushkur in India’s Jammu-Kashmir region at the Eastern extremity of the Shahi kingdoms (7th–10th centuries CE). The research aims to bring together the objects now dispersed in museum collections worldwide to better articulate how they were produced and used. These two groups of sculptures (tentatively datable to the 6th–7th and 7th–8th centuries, respectively) differ stylistically, yet indicate related production techniques and functions as found across the Shahi kingdoms. While clay became the preferred medium in eastern Afghanistan and Pakistan around the 6th century, inadequate scholarly attention has been given to the subject. Kimmet reassesses the popular identification of the Akhnur and Ushkur objects as terracotta, instead following the argument of Varma (1970) that they are unbaked clay. The scarce architectural and archaeological evidence and comparison to late Gupta terracottas as well as clay objects in Afghanistan and Central Asia further indicate that the Akhnur and Ushkur objects were likely affixed to a Buddhist architectural setting and assembled in a narrative context. These sculpture fragments allow examination of new arcs of knowledge across a vast expanse of Inner and South Asia during a period of intense cultural mobility. This paper considers the significance of these objects for defining the corpus of Shahi material culture and its transmission across the northwest of the Indian subcontinent.

 

Natasha Kimmet is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Vienna and member of the Austrian Science Fund project “Cultural Formation and Transformation: Shahi Art and Architecture from Afghanistan to the West Tibetan at the Dawn of the Islamic Era”. Her current research investigates Buddhist clay sculpture production in the Shahi Kingdoms. Natasha received her PhD in Art History from the University of Vienna in 2019, with a specialization in the art and architecture of South Asia, Tibet, and the Himalayas. Her doctoral research was supported by a fellowship from the Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Documentation of Inner and South Asian Cultural History. Natasha has taught in the Kabul Museum Project Curator Training Program in collaboration with the National Museum of Afghanistan, and was the 2015–2017 Curatorial Fellow at the Rubin Museum of Art, where she curated the exhibition Monumental Lhasa: Fortress, Palace, Temple. She has published several articles examining secular and religious art and architecture in the Western Himalayas.


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