• Vocal Instruments: Minnette de Silva and an Asian Modern Architecture
    Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi

Minnette De Silva in her studio at St. George's (November 5, 1997), Kandy, Sri Lanka. Photo: Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi.

Vocal Instruments attends to aesthetic claims by Indian institutions and figures upon a wider Asian architectural and visual heritage. It reads the practice and thought of colonial to post-imperial organs of architectural discourse such as the Archaeological Survey, the Government Schools of Art, and the journal MARG through the intellectual work of Sri Lankan architect Minnette De Silva. Richly instructive together for its debt to these institutions and critical lens upon them, her career offers a reflexive regional view from outside Indian national hegemony as well as a scene of a woman practicing architecture professionally in the early years of Independence. Setting her work and that of these modernist initiatives into broader regional and international struggles between nativisms and globalisms sharpens an investigation into constructions of autochthony understood to offer purchase on authority and authenticity: laboring at once as rationales and as discursive instruments of cultural and national identity.

Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi joined the faculty of Barnard College in 2018. She specializes in histories of architecture in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with focus on African and South Asian questions. Her work examines modernity, urbanism, and migration through diverse forms of aesthetic and cultural production. She is interested in problems of historicity and archives, decoloniality, heritage politics, and feminist historiography. Siddiqi's book manuscript Architecture of Migration analyzes the history, visual rhetoric, and spatial politics of the Dadaab refugee camps in Northeastern Kenya. Through the architecture of refugees and the spatial practice, material culture, and iconography of humanitarianism, the book examines a long tradition of migration and coloniality, drawing from historical, ethnographic, and visual approaches and several years research in East Africa, South Asia, and Europe. Siddiqi is also developing a manuscript that engages the intellectual work of Minnette de Silva, a cultural figure from Ceylon/Sri Lanka, and one of the first women to establish a professional architectural practice. This research informs her broader work on the dynamics of architectural modernism, craft, urbanism, and heritage in the Indian subcontinent, and on East African and South Asian historical intersections. Professor Siddiqi is the author of The L!brary Book (Princeton Architectural Press, 2010) and coeditor, with Andrew Herscher, of Spatial Violence (Routledge, 2016), and her writing appears in The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, The Journal of Architecture, Humanity, Architectural Theory Review, Grey Room, e-flux Architecture, The Funambulist, Harvard Design Magazine, The Avery Review, and the volume Things Don't Really Exist Until You Give Them A Name: Unpacking Urban Heritage. She was awarded fellowships by the Harvard University Mahindra Humanities Center, the New York University Provost and Gallatin School, the Fulbright Scholar Program, the Social Science Research Council, the American Institute of Indian Studies, the Graham Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. She holds a PhD in the history of art and archaeology, and a master's of architecture degree and professional license. She practiced architecture in Bangalore, Philadelphia, and New York and her professional background includes work for nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations including the United Nations Foundation, the Robin Hood Foundation, and the Women’s Refugee Commission.