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Pravina Shukla
Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology

George Vlahakis
University Communications

Last modified: Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Professor's book on dress and adornment in India receives 2009 Millia Davenport Publication Award

Sept. 22, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Pravina Shukla, an associate professor of folklore and ethnomusicology at Indiana University, has been awarded the 2009 Millia Davenport Publication Award given by the Costume Society of America for her book The Grace of Four Moons: Dress, Adornment, and the Art of the Body in Modern India (2008, Indiana University Press).

The Grace of Four Moons

The Grace of Four Moons

Print-Quality Photo

The Davenport Publication Award, named to honor the memory of Millia Davenport (1896-1992), noted costume scholar and theater designer, recognizes excellence in scholarship in the study of costume. The award seeks to promote research and publication on dress, recognizing a published book or exhibition catalog that makes a significant contribution to the study of costume, reflecting original thought and exceptional creativity, and drawing on appropriate research methods and techniques.

The 498-page bookdocuments the clothing decisions made by ordinary people in their everyday lives. Based on close ethnographic fieldwork, primarily in the city of Banaras in northeastern India, Shukla conceptualizes and realizes a model for the study of body art in a modern, urban setting. By attending to the production of items of bodily adornment, and to the key contexts of creation and commerce, the book portrays men and women as creative individuals who make deliberate choices on a social field of force and counterforce.

Pravina Shukla

Pravina Shukla

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"The premise of the book is visual communication, that through what you do with your clothing you are saying so much about your culture, gender, social-economic class, caste, religion and family," said Shukla, also an adjunct faculty member in anthropology, India studies and the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies and an associate curator at IU's Mathers Museum of World Cultures.

Through long interviews, and through the voices of Indian people, The Grace of Four Moons describes the fullness of creative action, tracing, for example, the journey of a gold ingot from the atelier of a goldsmith who fashioned it into a bracelet, through the shop where it was sold, to its final place in the assembled bodily display of a shy bride.

This year's Davenport Award jury had a strong field of short-listed books representing many aspects of dress scholarship. The jurors called The Grace of Four Moons "well researched and written," praising Shukla's efforts "to raise the profile of costume scholarship."

One juror commented, "Her evocation of the sight, sound, smell, and feel of dress and her emphasis on understanding the performative act of dressing is brilliant." Kristina Haugland, chair of the Davenport Publication Award Committee, said the book has been judged to be "an outstanding example of dress scholarship."