2017-18 Faculty Seed Fund Sprouts and Shoots: Part 1

November 29, 2018

In roundtables convened in Williams Hall November 1 and 15, 2018, faculty recipients of the 2018 Research and Teaching Seed Fund awards presented first fruits of their projects to faculty, staff and students. Drawing on those presentations, this series offers a brief glimpse of the exciting new initiatives in environmental humanities being developed by Penn faculty with support from the fund.

We are currently accepting applications for 2019 Seed Funds from faculty interested in building toward new courses, creating new public engagement tools or developing innovative cross-disciplinary research projects that push the boundaries of environmental inquiry at Penn.

Behind the Scene: Engagement with Local Communities, Artists, and Artisans in Barmer, India

Anuradha Mathur (Landscape Architecture, PennDesign), Matt Neff (Fine Arts, PennDesign), Jim Sykes (Music, School of Arts & Sciences)


This project brings together three scholars who work in diverse artistic fields and the environmental humanities to consider the relations between the desert landscape, modern capitalist transformations of traditional crafts, and the persistence of traditional artisanal activities and aesthetics. Anuradha Mathur works on environmental issues that span the arts and sciences, particularly with respect to how water is seen, framed, and managed. Jim Sykes studies the relations between sound, religion, and ethnic politics in Sri Lanka and India, focusing on encounters between people separated by conceptual and physical borders. Matt Neff engages the art and techniques of printmaking, as well as the material imprints in and of the landscape. The project focuses on Barmer, a district in the Thar Desert of western Rajasthan in India that is a vibrant and dynamic landscape inextricably woven with its people, materials, and practices.

In the spring semester 2018, Professor Mathur led a design studio around the theme of ‘Imprints & Crossings: Barmer Behind the Scene’ with landscape architecture students who traveled with her to Barmer in February, accompanied by Jim Sykes. In their travels they engaged many traditional practices of printing and dyeing, pottery, infrastructure, and music, and on their return developed design proposals for a place called Tilwara that is at the cross road of many movements.

This coming Spring of 2019, Matt Neff will be part of the studio trip while also exploring printing techniques of the region to inspire his own work.

See Part 2

See Part 3

See Part 4

See Part 5