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Title: The nation and the everyday : the aesthetics and politics of modern art in India Bengal, c.1920-c.1960
Author: Sunderason, S.
Awarding Body: University College London (University of London)
Current Institution: University College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2012
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This thesis studies the practices and the polemics that structured the mid-twentieth century ‘field’ of modern art in India, as it registered shifts away from mythological classicism to new artistic imperatives of the everyday, the popular and the progressive. Concentrating on Bengal, this study follows the new agenda and anxieties around ‘formal’ autonomy and ‘social’ resonance of art that developed during the transitional decades of high nationalism, decolonisation and postcolonial nation-building in South Asia between the 1920s and the late-1950s. I argue that artists and art discourse in Bengal during this historical conjuncture invoked tropes of contextuality, habitation and socio-political experience in art-production, reinforcing the sensibility of realism within artistic modernism, of the everyday within modernist abstraction, and the locational within the national. Two themes map this mid-century ‘social turn’ in visual art: the first concentrates on institutional sites like the Government School of Art in Calcutta and the Kala Bhavan at Santiniketan, to follow the shifting registers of the ‘national-modern’ aesthetic, both in the elimination and re-figuration of orientalist classicism by new values of composition and contemporaneity, as well as in the pro-Gandhian rhetoric of the ‘local’ and the ‘popular’ that dominated cultural discourse during the interwar period. The second theme studies the left-wing intervention in formulating a socially-committed, politically conscious notion of ‘progressive’ art since the late-1930s. Resonating with anti-fascist cultural activism of the Popular Front period, and increasingly dominated by the Communist left, the progressive rhetoric became the site for ideological conflict between realism and modernism in the 1940s, with contesting values of socialist idealism and formalist progress of art. I close with the recurrence of the social as metaphor in postcolonial art production in Calcutta in the 1950s-60s, as the city negotiated both marginal location within the nation’s modernity and a persisting memory of post-partition trauma.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available