Accepted paper:

This is not a portrait: the problem of representation and a global history of art


Sria Chatterjee (Oxford University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the problem of representation in nineteenth century maritime India. It questions the category of portraiture as a universal, as understood by the traditional art historical canon, further pointing to a rethinking of a global art history as a multi-sited historiography of art.

Paper long abstract:

Using as case study, a collection of nineteenth century clay figures from Krishnanagar, India at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, USA, this paper approaches the question of a global art with a view of retrospective historical narrative and contemporary methods. In considering the commission and collecting of these clay figures as tangible by-products of the Indo-American relationship between traders in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, I address processes of commodity production , consumption, gift-giving, and the flows of knowledge, technologies, and materials both within local contexts and through the intercontinental networks that linked them. In exploring the nature of representation in this variable climate of artistic patronage, I question the predetermined status of the category of the portrait in art history. Dismantling the essentialist hierarchy of ideas and values as in the case of colonial discourse, a dialogic engagement allows for copresence and multiple presences in moments and spaces of cultural interaction. While suggesting that categories such as 'the portrait' cannot be thought of as a universal concept in a global history of art, I point to an interdisciplinary turn between the history of art and cultural anthropology to suggest a new historiography of art. Keen to explore the possibilities of a global history of art, I suggest a multi-sited historiography that allows for a multi-lateral history. Using the object as central to historical analysis, I consider historical narrative as assemblage, which in its multiplicity acts on semiotic flows, material flows and social flows simultaneously.

panel P02
World art and critical pedagogy