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An End and a Beginning

George September 22, 2023
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This course has introduced a breadth of material, from the 19th century to the present day. And yet, we’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to this rich subject. In addition to what we’ve covered, there is a plethora of institutions, artists, art historians, curators and critics who have been integral to modern and contemporary Indian art. The loosely chronological approach of this course covers major schools, movements and ideas in tandem with historical shifts in the country, and lays out a foundation through which one can delve deeper. 

For both experts and new audiences, modern and contemporary art offers a way of grappling with the challenges and tensions of our times, and reflecting on the extraordinary transformations of the past 70 years in the wake of independence and the partition of the Indian subcontinent. Due to these conditions and historical shifts towards transnational and global paradigms, many Indian artists — including those studied in this course — have often resisted being presented in relation to their national identity in recent years. That said, this course presents a counterpoint to global discourses on modern and contemporary art, which focus more on Euro-American art and tend to consider modern and contemporary Indian art, as well as other artistic networks and cultures from the Global South, in relation to the linearity and timelines of innovation in the West. It is important to remember that Indian and largely, South Asian art has developed in a different context, one with a vibrant history of artistic tradition supported by royal and religious patronage, but in which the idea of independent professional artists emerged largely in the 20th century. 

As we have seen in this course, the discourse on modern and contemporary Indian art has often also been exclusionary in a number of ways. Especially in light of the number of artists and those practising living traditions being largely neglected from canonical narratives, more work in this field remains. Deeper studies in relation to the network of artistic centres in South Asia and beyond would help better understand the local and global relationships and influences underlying artistic production and discourse. Continuing to study Indian art as its own history and in relation to regional and global centres will allow further evaluation and challenge the power dynamics that position India at the centre or periphery of any study, a future remaining to be written.

The broader field of modern and contemporary Indian art also prominently includes histories surrounding photography and modern architecture, which we will introduce in subsequent courses we produce. For now, we hope that the foundation this course provides, and some of the methods we have employed — of closely looking, surveying artistic practices and understanding particular themes, will serve as valuable tools to apply when engaging further with any form of art.