Accepted paper:

Contesting Frames: Locational Ideologies and a National-Modern Aesthetic in India, 1940s-50s


Sanjukta Sunderason (Leiden University)

Paper short abstract:

My paper studies the tensions between partisan and secular art discourse in India during political transition from the mass politics of the 1940s to the ‘Nehruvian Consensus’ of the 1950s, while probing the new nation-state’s articulation of a de-radicalised ‘national-popular’ aesthetic.

Paper long abstract:

The arrival of an independent nation-state in India in the late-1940s was predicated upon a conscious mechanism of negotiating both the catharsis of partition and a modernist promise of selfhood and secular individualism. Reflecting on the aesthetic ideologies of Nehruvian India, this paper will draw out the new nation's rhetoric of a de-radicalised 'national-popular'and a 'democratic consciousness'in the practices and discourses of modern art against the backdrop of political transition from the mass politics of the 1940s to the 'Nehruvian Consensus' of the 1950s. By taking up as case-study, art criticism around the modernist collective - the Calcutta Group of artists (1943-53), the paper will map the aesthetic conflict between content and form, the modernist and the popular, the social and the Socialist, as well as the locational and the national that characterised art discourse during the transitional decades of the 1940s-50s. This animated the politicalities of the so-called 'purely' artistic categories of both realism and modernism, and reoriented in a new political climate, the ideological tropes of the popular and the progressive, produced by a Left aesthetic discourse in India since the late-1930s. Foregrounding the discursive markers in the art writings around the Calcutta Group, I will elaborate on the larger politics of aesthetic criticism that both disturbs a stable narrative of modern art at the arrival of the nation-state, and underlines a politics of selection that the nation articulates, even in domains as diffused as modern art discourse.

panel P52
Vernacular perspectives on arts and aesthetics