Current Institutional Affiliation
Assistant Professor, History of Art, University of California / Berkeley

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2007
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Art History, University of Minnesota / Twin Cities
The Making of a Postcolonial Avant-Garde: Silpi Chakra and the Politics of Modern Art in India

Most studies on modern Indian art focus on artists’ oeuvres, isolating art from its larger social and cultural context. Seen through this framework, avant-garde art appears to be an esoteric, almost narcissistic, practice. In contrast, I argue that the avant-garde was so integral to the cultural politics of the Indian nation-state that an understanding of India’s post-Independence cultural modernity remains incomplete without an engagement with avant-garde art practices. Using the Silpi Chakra, a Delhi-based artists’ collective (established in 1948), as a lens, my dissertation will study the processes through which the avant-garde intervened in devising a cultural politics for post-Independence India while participating in the state’s politics of “non-alignment” during the Cold War. The Chakra is an ideal site for my research. The artists of this collective had originally been part of an anti-colonial art group in Lahore. With Partition in 1947, the Hindu artists of this group migrated to Delhi and subsequently formed the Chakra. Almost immediately, these artists actively involved themselves in building cultural institutions for the new nation-state. These activities will become a discursive site through which I aim to trace the development of institutions for the production, exhibition, and dissemination of art. This study will not only allow for an understanding of the extent to which avant-garde artists participated in nation-making but will also offer a history of the larger postcolonial public sphere within which the art collective operated. Simultaneously, the Chakra’s origin in Lahore will make it possible to explore the shared, but ignored, history of modern art in India and Pakistan. Opening my research to questions regarding nationality, citizenship, and identity, my dissertation will locate a nuanced genealogy of India’s postcolonial avant-garde. My dissertation will end with the disintegration of the collective in 1970s.