Public Engagement

Students General Public Faculty Staff

A Fantastic State of Ruin: The Painted Towns of Rajasthan

Thursday, November 15, 2018 at 5:30 pm to 7:00 pm

Orozco Room, Alvin Johnson/J.M. Kaplan Hall 66 West 12th Street, Room A712, New York, NY 10011

In this illustrated lecture, geographer and photographer David Zurick explores the connections between visual culture, landscape change, and the loss of cultural memory in small-town India.

For several years, Zurick has been making photographs in the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan, among little-known settlements that owe their origins to the trade caravans that once crossed the Thar Desert. In the 1800s, prosperous merchants financed the construction of ornate buildings in the towns and commissioned artists to decorate them with exquisite murals depicting local life and society. For generations, these painted buildings served the towns as trading houses, pleasure palaces, temples, caravansaries, and private homes. Eventually, the trading families left Shekhawati for India’s burgeoning cities and abandoned their opulent structures. Some were left in the charge of caretakers; squatters took up residence in many; most simply remain vacant. The buildings have slowly deteriorated over time, ravaged by climate and neglect, and now lie scattered among the desert settlements as an elegiac collection of beautiful living ruins – a crumbling open-air gallery set amid the ordinary affairs of small town life in rural India. As the mural-clad buildings of the painted towns disappear, the opportunity for local residents to engage with their cultural heritage declines, and the beauty of our lived-world is further diminished. In this presentation, Zurick discovers the unique richness of this remote vernacular architecture and highlights ongoing efforts to designate the region a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Presented by the India China Institute. 

Event Type

Conferences and Symposia, Lectures and Panel Discussions, Projects and Presentations


Students, General Public, Faculty, Staff


India China Institute


Art and Design, Humanity, Society, Social Justice, International and Global


Parsons School of Design, Schools of Public Engagement, The New School for Social Research, Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts, University, College of Performing Arts


Anthropology, Environmental Studies, Fine Arts, Global Studies and Migration, Humanities, Photography, Sociology, Publishing and Journalism, Religion and Spirituality, Liberal Studies



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Additional Details

About David Zurick

David Zurick is an academically trained geographer (PhD, University of Hawaii and East-West Center, Honolulu) and a self-taught photographer. He writes and photographs extensively about Asia and the Pacific region, with a special focus on the cultural landscapes of South Asia and the Himalaya. His books and photography have won numerous awards and acclaimed reviews, including the National Outdoor Book Award, Banff International Mountain Book Award Finalist (twice), and Kentucky Arts Council Al Smith Visual Artist Fellowship Award (twice). His geographical studies and photography have been supported by research grants from the National Science Foundation, American Geographical Society, Banff Centre, and other major funding organizations. In 2009 he received the “Mt Everest Award” for his lifetime achievement in Himalaya studies. David is a Fellow of The Explorers Club. He lectures and exhibits at academic and film arts organizations worldwide. His photography books include Illustrated Atlas of the HimalayaSouthern Crossings, and Land of Pure Vision.

You can learn more about David’s work at his website and blog

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