Journal of Arts & Ideas, no. 27-28 (March 1995) p. 3.


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Introduction

Introduction

This double issue of the Journal brings together concerted material on modern Indian art. It considers some of the major visual inputs since the nineteenth century in relation to their corresponding discourses and these in turn in relation to the art historical methodology available for use today. So that the very category of modem Indian art is made to traverse difficult ground the better, I believe, to make it a dynamic and interrogative proposition.

Tapati Guha Thakurta's subject matter and methodology is gained from studies in modem Indian history and more specifically critical studies in (Indian) nationalism in the growing corpus of which her major book titled The Making of the New 'Indian Art is inscribed. It has been her task to see how the Indian intelligentsia from the later nineteenth century, including the self-conscious category of artists, elicit from the colonial entanglement forms of empowerment that cut beyond the question of originality. The new is the term that teases the imagination of those engaged in art practice then as now; meanwhile Guha Thakurta has a teaser of her own which has to do with the question of taste and value, that is to say with the construction of the new as high art. This involves a critique of the national/modern culture as an elite formation at the turn of the nineteenth century and therefore, simultaneously, due consideration of that which goes by the name of popular art, both folk and urban.

Going from Ravi Varma through Abanindranath Tagore to Nandalal Bose into the 1930s, this essay by Guha Thakurta lays out the lineaments of an emerging culture wherein the indigenous the classical and popular and the modem are seen to make up the imbricated terrain of the national. And it is in the overlap that the art historical questions of chronology and category, and further, within that, the question of genre as it sits between the high and the popular, is made over into a suitably contradictory agenda for twentieth-century Indian art.

Nandakumar's study of Raja Ravi Varma relies on sociological contextualizing of the celebrated artist in the culture of Travancore. The methodology can be crossrefer-enced with Guha Thakurta, except that Nandakumar treats ideology as false consciousness judging Ravi Varma on that basis to be 'inauthentic and unhistoricaF. Exhorted by liberal European orientalists within the imperial setup to reappropriate their own (depleted) tradition through new techniques of translation, the emerging Indian elites, Nandakumar argues, initiated a process of self-distancing through mimicry. On the one hand, tradition is interpreted without regard to its foundational principles, as for example, a different system of pictorial individuation, representation, narration, theatricality. On the other hand, the middle class is barely committed to modernization but that it turns the content of it into an academic gloss leamt by rote through colonial education. As the elite is misled in the seeming promotion of

Numbers 27-28


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