Fields of Legibility: Anthology Workshop III

September 13–14, 2013

This colloquium—convened by Hammad Nasar, Sabih Ahmed, and Jane DeBevoise of the Asia Art Archive—is the third in a sequence of Asia Art Archive (AAA) workshops that have informed the archive's research on the history of writing on twentieth-century visual art in India.
Having set up its first Indian research post in 2007, AAA has over the years undertaken a number of research initiatives in the country, ranging from critically surveying the field of art criticism in India to a digitization project in the personal archive of Geeta Kapur a Vivian Sundaram. Currently, AAA is working on the digitization of the personal archives of four important pedagogues in Baroda, and is also compiling an extensive bibliography of art writing in India since the late nineteenth century, across multiple languages, including English. The efforts of this colloquium built on these prior initiatives, and sought to make a contribution to the study of art history and practice in India.
This final workshop brought together a set of scholars who teach and write on South Asia from other locations in the world. Perspectives over diaspora in the art discourse, reception of South Asia's art history in other contexts, and each participant's pedagogic method were key concerns in the workshop.


In order of discussion

Friday, September 13
Darby English and Jane DeBevoise
Surveying the Field of Art Criticism in Post-Independent India: Some Reflections on the Project
Vidya Shivadas
In 2010, with the support of Asia Art Archive, Shivadas undertook a year-long survey of the field of art criticism in post-independent India. It was a fragmentary mapping via the writing of key figures including: W. G. Archer, Richard Bartholomew, J. Swaminathan, Geeta Kapur, and Ranjit Hoskote. These critics emerged as distinct voices at different historical moments and played (and continue to play) influential roles in the shaping of the modern and contemporary art scene in India. Given Shivadas’s primary interest in institutions, she wanted to locate their writings within the wider networks that shaped art practices. Beyond situating the critics within their historical contexts and a constellation of writers around them, the project was a starting point for her to embed writing within a larger system—publications, patronage, and institutions—that makes art practices legible. The paper shares some insights on the genealogies of art writing and how critics and writers have clarified their critical role at different historical moments.
Coomaraswamy in America and the Framing of Indian Art
Brinda Kumar 
This paper will examine the role of Ananda Coomaraswamy, the pioneering historian and philosopher of Indian art, at a time when museums in America were first beginning to collect and exhibit Indian art in the early decades of the twentieth century. By focusing on the period during which Coomaraswamy was at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, this paper will address how Indian art originally was situated within the American museum and discusses, among other issues, why specific kinds of objects were collected as art (to the exclusion of others) and the formation of narratives of India alongside of preexisting categories in place for Asian and Islamic art. The latter, it will turn out, had significant implications for the formation of the discipline and field of Indian art history. A critical analysis of Coomaraswamy’s multiples roles as collector (and occasional supplier) of Indian art, writer, researcher, cataloguer, and bibliographer will allow us to consider the various ways he helped frame Indian art history.
The Almirah as Archive
Sonal Khullar 
Khullar is completing a book manuscript, Worldly Affiliations: Artistic Practice, National Identity, and Modernism in India, 1930-1990, which charts a distinctive trajectory of modernism in the visual arts in India that is foundational to the representational practices of the present. Through four careers (Amrita Sher-Gil, M.F. Husain, K.G. Subramanyan, and Bhupen Khakhar), it traces continuities and changes in artistic production from the late colonial through the postcolonial periods, which have been treated as discrete, if not disconnected, in art historical scholarship. The project shows how contemporary artists in India since the 1990s have taken up the history of modernism suggesting a much closer relationship between modern and contemporary art than popular discourses celebrating and criticizing globalization suggest. This talk discusses various archives employed to research and write the book. What is the nature of the archive of modern and contemporary Indian art? Why is it at once elusive and ever present? How might that archive serve as a model for art history?
Panel 1: Constructing the Nation
Ajay Sinha, Rebecca Brown, Chaitanya Sambrani
Through recourse to Brown’s Art for a Modern India, 1947-1980, Sambrani’s Edge of Desire and To Let the World In, and Sinha’s “Contemporary Indian Art: A Question of Method,” this session will focus on the modes at hand to represent a nation's heterogeneous art history and the respective challenges, necessities, and assumptions that come with each chosen mode. The aim of the session is to explore how participants have approached the demands and challenges of narrating national art histories within South Asia's art histories.
Panel 2: Critiquing the Nation
Hammad Nasar, Iftikhar Dadi, Kajri Jain
Through Dadi’s framing of “Muslim South Asia,”, Jain's ongoing research on the caste dynamics in Indian visual culture (and print culture in British India), and Nasar’s way of signposting the fault-lines in partition histories through the curatorial platforms of “Lines of Control,” we discussed the stress-points of national art histories and the means used to undo the homogeneity of national narratives. In its readying of its anthology/reader, AAA is grappling with how to contextualize the field. A nation-based narrative comes with its own distinct problems and advantages as a frame of reference (as a “South Asian” frame would). How have participants treated the demands and challenges of positioning underrepresented (“minor” or “minoritarian”) narratives alongside of South Asian art histories and nation based-approaches.
Saturday, September 14
Panel 3: Narratives in and of Art Institutions
Saloni Mathur, Karin Zitzewitz, Santhosh Sadanandan
The methodological, ideological, and historical priorities at work in the teaching of art history play a vital role in constituting how “modern art” is positioned in relation to “visual culture, “'crafts,” and “design.” This panel explored how different contexts impact approaches to teaching art history, methodologies, and visual culture. As professors, teachers, students, and researches will constitute a key readership of the proposed anthology/reader, the session serves as a point of departure for assessing priorities during the AAA presentations to follow.
Anthology Workshop
Moderator: Hammad Nasar
A series of presentations by Asia Art Archive introduced the ongoing bibliography project. The presentations sought to test the structures and parameters of the anthology initiative. We invite discussions to assess the structures and parameter in relation to current urgencies in the field.
Workshop: AAA Bibliography Project
 Sneha Ragavan
Workshop: Survey of Selected Books
Sabih Ahmed
Workshop: Strawman Presentation
 Sabih Ahmed
Closing Discussion
Hammad Nasar

Participants included

Rebecca BrownThe John Hopkins University
Iftikhar DadiCornell University
Kajri JainUniversity of Toronto
Sonal KhullarUniversity of Washington
Brinda KumarCornell University
Saloni MathurUniversity of California, Los Angeles
Sneha RagavnAsia Art Archive
Santosh SadanandanAmbedkar University
Chaitanya SambraniThe Australian National University
Vidya ShivadasFoundation for Indian Contemporary Art
Ajay SinhaMount Holyoke College
Karin ZitzewitzMichigan State University