UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The discourse and practice of radicalism in contemporary Indian art 1960-1990 Wyma, Kathleen Lynne


By the early 1980s the Department of Fine Arts and Aesthetics at the Maharaja Sayajirao University in Baroda stood as the key institution for contemporary art in India. Its reputation had been carefully cultivated over the last fifteen years by both K. G. Subramanyan and Geeta Kapur. Under their careful artistic and theoretical tutelage, the Facuhy of Fine Arts turned to narrative-figuration as a self-proclaimed polemical stance against the materialist/determinist thrust of history. The narrative turn moved beyond the regional locality of Baroda in 1981 with the exhibition Place for People. Held in the cosmopolitan art centres of Delhi and Bombay the show included the work of six artists variously affiliated with the school in Baroda: Bhupen Khakhar, Vivan Sundaram, Gulammohammed Sheikh, Nalini Malani, Jogen Chowdhury, and Sudhir Patwardhan. The arrival of Place for People in the 1980s must be situated within the larger frames of contemporary art in the post-colonial moment. In attending to the variegated terrain spanning both theory and practice, my project has as its underlying concern the interface between discursive formations, institutional structures, and sites of artistic intervention. More specifically, I am interested the representational strategies that emerged in the period between 1960 and 1990. In looking to the gaps in the discourse, alongside the points of conflict or conciliation, I raise larger questions about the politics of representation, and the productive or prohibitive possibilities of artistic intervention. At the core of my argument is the rise of painterly narrative-figuration exemplified by Place for People and the challenge leveled against it by the Indian Radical Painters and Sculptors Association. Both laid claim to radicalism as a polemical gesture; however, the battle was waged across the historically contingent fields of artistic subjectivity, regional difference and the capacity of art to function as an agent of social change. Pivotal to my study is how certain approaches to both the theory and practice of contemporary art in India have emerged as paradigmatic while others have gathered the dust of disregard.

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