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Context and Structure

George September 22, 2023

This Short Course has been designed to introduce key movements in modern and contemporary Indian art. Its lessons follow a rough chronological order, which enables us to study artistic developments as they arise in response to styles and forms that preceded them. This approach also helps us examine how certain ideas and visual expressions were developing in tandem with social and historical events. That being said, we will look beyond dominant chronological narratives, particularly when we depart from major urban and cosmopolitan centres and turn our attention to artists and regions excluded from the canon.

We begin with a discussion of the relationship between historical and traditional art forms on the one hand and modern and contemporary art on the other to contextualise artworks and ideas of the period covered by the Course. We will learn how the early-20th century saw changes in models of art education, patronage and production. These shifts were marked not only by resistance against British colonial structures that governed India for around two centuries, but also by India’s independence, which was accompanied by the 1947 Partition that divided the region into India and Pakistan. Such key movements and events formed crucial frameworks for unique developments in Indian modernism, which in turn have influenced the vocabulary and reception of art in the region to this date. 

Since India’s independence, artists have sought to define their roles and carve out professional spaces for themselves in the country’s changing landscape. Despite frequently facing challenges such as lack of institutional resources and financial support, their artworks have responded meaningfully to socio-political and personal circumstances, providing sensitive insights into a range of important ideas and values in pioneering ways. While there is so much to learn beyond the scope of what we cover, especially in areas that comprise sculpture, modern architecture and photography, this Short Course aims to help build a foundation and introduce the vocabulary and skillset to be able to delve deeper.  

The movements, institutions, artists and artworks covered in this Course shows how the trajectory of modern and contemporary Indian art can offer rich insights on modernism even though it is often left out of global discourses that focus more on Euro-American developments. This Course also reveals how studying modern and contemporary art from other parts of South Asia and across the Global South could be equally enriching in helping us think sensitively about developments across the world, whilst dismantling mainstream approaches to this subject.

We hope you will find this journey with us to be a meaningful experience, regardless of whether you are a beginner, or someone looking to brush up on your existing knowledge!