Art for a Modern India, 1947-1980

Art for a Modern India, 1947-1980


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Book Pages: 224 Illustrations: 27 illustrations (incl. 10 in color) Published: March 2009

Art and Visual Culture > Art History, Asian Studies > South Asia, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

Following India’s independence in 1947, Indian artists creating modern works of art sought to maintain a local idiom, an “Indianness” representative of their newly independent nation, while connecting to modernism, an aesthetic then understood as both universal and presumptively Western. These artists depicted India’s precolonial past while embracing aspects of modernism’s pursuit of the new, and they challenged the West’s dismissal of non-Western places and cultures as sources of primitivist imagery but not of modernist artworks. In Art for a Modern India, Rebecca M. Brown explores the emergence of a self-conscious Indian modernism—in painting, drawing, sculpture, architecture, film, and photography—in the years between independence and 1980, by which time the Indian art scene had changed significantly and postcolonial discourse had begun to complicate mid-century ideas of nationalism.

Through close analyses of specific objects of art and design, Brown describes how Indian artists engaged with questions of authenticity, iconicity, narrative, urbanization, and science and technology. She explains how the filmmaker Satyajit Ray presented the rural Indian village as a socially complex space rather than as the idealized site of “authentic India” in his acclaimed Apu Trilogy, how the painter Bhupen Khakhar reworked Indian folk idioms and borrowed iconic images from calendar prints in his paintings of urban dwellers, and how Indian architects developed a revivalist style of bold architectural gestures anchored in India’s past as they planned the Ashok Hotel and the Vigyan Bhavan Conference Center, both in New Delhi. Discussing these and other works of art and design, Brown chronicles the mid-twentieth-century trajectory of India’s modern visual culture.


“Keeping in view Brown’s art-historical skill and insight, and her willingness to bring together disparate media into unified frames of analyses, Art for a Modern India should become a key point of reference for future scholars exploring the interface of art-historical and cultural heritage studies.”
— Daniel J. Rycroft, CAA Reviews

“[R]ecommended for libraries with graduate programs in art history and for others looking to expand their modern and non-Western art history collections.” — Melissa Aho, ARLIS/NA Reviews

“An interesting contribution, this book will be useful in general and undergraduate libraries. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-level undergraduates through faculty/ researchers; general readers.” — E. Findly, Choice

“Bringing together a range of disparate but linked examples, Brown's text makes for stimulating reading–an essential text for any student of the arts, postcolonialism, and the interaction of science and arts in the postcolonial context.” — Aparna Sharma, Leonardo Reviews

“Rebecca Brown’s elegant and conceptually driven account of modernism focuses on the decades following Independence. . . . Brown’s approach is highly satisfying. By cutting across media and juxtaposing artists whose aesthetic commitments and backgrounds are presented as incommensurate within the internal debates of the Indian art world, Brown challenges the specialist. But she also gives the general reader an overarching sense of what conceptual problems faced Indian artists and, just as importantly, why those problems emerged as such. It is a particularly fitting approach for a period of art history that is dominated by studies focusing on single artists, artist groups, and institutions.” — Karin Zitzewitz, Art History

“Rebecca M. Brown weaves a rich and layered narrative of Indian postindependence art, connecting painting with a wide range of references that include the architecture of Charles Correa, the ‘high’ cinema of Satyajit Ray, and the demotic art of Bollywood. All the while she balances theoretical sophistication with penetrating insights into the singular achievements of these artists as they negotiate the predicament of local versus global modernism. In the process, she unravels the indebtedness of modernity to colonialism. There has long been a crying need for such a work, and Brown’s pioneering opus fulfills this admirably.” — Partha Mitter, author of The Triumph of Modernism: India’s Artists and the Avant-Garde, 1922–1947


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Rebecca M. Brown is a visiting associate professor of art history at Johns Hopkins University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations ix

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction: The Modern Indian Paradox 1

One. Authenticity 23

Two. The Icon 45

Three. Narrative and Time 75

Four. Science, Technology, and Industry 103

Five. The Urban 131

Epilogue. The 1980s and After 157

Notes 163

References 171

Index 187
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4375-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4355-4
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