CALL FOR PARTICIPATION: Indian Ocean Figures that Sailed Away

A range of archaeological finds of South Asian manufacture from sites in the Horn of Africa, and in the Italian and Arabian peninsulas—some long known and some newly excavated—can expand our knowledge of the Indian Ocean cultural milieu.  ISAW is pleased to announce an online seminar series in Spring 2022 to reconvene an international conversation on these figures that sailed out of India to points west during the early first millennium CE.  The series is open to advanced research students, scholars, and academics; please note that this event is not intended for the general public. 

By hosting the conversation online, we hope to include regional specialists knowledgeable about and from different parts of the world. Advanced registration is required, and the number of participants will be limited to facilitate discussion, which will be led by participants who have written about the specific object or its context.  We will closely consider the Pompeii Yakshi, formerly “Lakshmi” (Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli), the Khor Rori Yakshi (Smithsonian, National Museum of Asian Art), a stone head from Berenike, a stone torso from Adulis, several ivory combs from, e.g., Dibba, as well as representations of ships. 

The reception history of these objects both in antiquity and in museums has led to the association of only certain meanings with these objects in their afterlife. By looking again at these objects, we can distinguish other meanings: they hint at the identities of people who moved such objects overseas during the first millennium CE, thereby shedding light on the hybridity of both artifacts and their cultural context(s). This material record offers a complementary reading to literary accounts and historiographies of Indian Ocean trade routes.  

The online “lunchtime” roundtable series will include a total of five 1-hour Friday ‘lunchtime’ (in New York) talks, conducted via zoom, from February 25th to April 25th, 2022 (see schedule below).  We will reconsider individual figurines as types and as part of a collection of interrogated objects with very specific afterlives.  Through our discussions, formerly occluded layers of reception will offer insight on larger questions of the first millennium Indian Ocean, its people, its cultures, its complexities, and its hybridities, Through such close looking at these and similar objects and their contexts, the series and culminating public lecture seek to integrate archaeological finds with ongoing studies of Indian Ocean travel, trade, and the broader cultural milieu of the Indian Ocean World with a special focus on religious attitudes, merchant identities, and material culture.  We plan to develop an edited volume based on the discussions as well as initiate longer-term scholarly communities with this event.

If your area of research interest overlaps with this project, we invite you to join us by filling out this registration form (  Please include a short abstract describing your research interests and key conference papers and/or publications.  We will be in touch with a confirmation and more details during the first week of February.  

For any additional information, or if you have any questions, please email:

Dates and Sessions:

February 25, 2022: 11am EST “Comparanda as context?” — The Pompeii Figurine and Indian Yakshis
March 4, 2022: 11am EST“Cultural milieu as context”? — The Khor Rori Bronze, a Dancing Yakshi
March 11, 2022: 11am EST“What other contexts?” — Liquescent Bodies and Coiffed Heads
March 25, 2022: 11am EDT“What do images of ships tell us?” — (Re)presenting Shipping 
April 1, 2022: 11am EDT “How did we receive these objects into our mental world?”  — Curation and Conclusions


Divya Kumar-Dumas, PhD, Visiting Research Scholar, ISAW

Valentina A. Grasso, PhD, Visiting Assistant Professor, ISAW

Lylaah Bhalerao, PhD Student, ISAW

Priya Barchi, PhD Student, ISAW

Spriha Gupta, PhD Student, IFA NYU

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