Chair: Laura Weinstein (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) | Discussant: Ariella Azoulay, Brown University
Kavita Singh (Jawaharlal Nehru University), "For the Love of God"
Time was when one could distinguish at first glance between Indian artifacts or monuments that had remained sacred and those that had been secularized. They had very different “looks” which derived from the protocols applied to them. Sculptures placed in the museum were to be stripped, cleaned, and protected from touch or other sources of corrosion. Temples that were declared monuments had to be preserved in their original form without additions, alterations and coats of garish paint. An entirely different regime applied to temples and icons that remained under worship. Regardless of their antiquity, living temples had to serve congregational needs and their structures were often expanded and altered. Icons under worship were daubed with vermilion and sandal paste, and had to be nurtured through regular lustrations and offerings of clothing and food. Today however, in an emergent trend of “crossovers,” the norms and protocols of the museal regime are being applied to temples and icons — but as a form of devotional care. This paper will trace this growing trend by describing a religious foundation that sponsors the careful excavation of medieval temples; a voluntary association that rebuilds ancient temples while scrupulously adhering to conservation norms; and a group of art sleuths that tracks stolen icons in the art market to effect their recovery and return. All of these groups speak of these icons and temples as sculptural or architectural masterpieces of great historical and art historical value and strive for their physical preservation. At the same their goal is to return these buildings and sculptures to active worship. What are the implications of the merging of the museal and the sacral in the actions of these individuals and groups? And how does this phenomenon intersect with Hindutva politics of today? This paper offers some conjectures.
2018 Biography: Kavita Singh is Professor of Art History at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, where she teaches courses on the history of Indian painting and the history and politics of museums. She has published essays on issues of colonial history, repatriation, secularism, and religiosity, fraught national identities, and the memorialization of difficult histories as they relate to museums in South Asia and beyond. She has also published on Indian painting. Her books include the edited and co-edited volumes New Insights into Sikh Art (Marg, 2003), Influx: Contemporary Art in Asia (Sage, 2013), No Touching, No Spitting, No Praying: The Museum in South Asia (Routledge, 2014), Nauras: The Many Arts of the Deccan (National Museum, 2015), Museum Storage and Meaning: Tales from the Crypt (Routledge, 2017), and the forthcoming Scent Upon a Southern Breeze: Synaesthesia and the Arts of the Deccan (Marg, 2018). Monographs include Museums, Heritage, Culture: Into the Conflict Zone (Amsterdam University of the Arts, 2015) and Real Birds in Imagined Gardens: Mughal Painting between Persia and Europe (Getty Foundation, 2016). She has curated exhibitions at the San Diego Museum of Art, the Devi Art Foundation, Jawaharlal Nehru University, and the National Museum of India.
Karin Zitzewitz (Michigan State University), "Loopholing the Secular Museum: Bhupen Khakhar, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, and Rituals of Devotion"
This paper extends my discussion of Bhupen Khakhar’s painting through a productive comparison with the work of Cuban-American artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres, an icon of the queer artistic response to AIDS. I have argued that Khakhar’s 1990s watercolors lean upon the ritual practices of viewing associated with bhakti. Robert Storr has pinpointed a similar use of the communion ritual in Gonzalez-Torres’s candy spills. In both cases, I argue, these artists find a loophole in the secular practices of museum viewing in order to attest to the truth of gay love at the very moment in which gay bodies are most at risk.
2018 Biography: Karin Zitzewitz is Associate Professor of Art History and Visual Culture at Michigan State University. Her book, The Art of Secularism: The Cultural Politics of Modernist Art in Contemporary India (2014), won the Edward C. Dimock Prize in the Humanities from the American Institute for Indian Studies and was named a 2014 New Republic book of the year. She curated exhibitions by Pakistani artist Naiza Khan (2013) and Indian artist Mithu Sen (2014) for the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University. She is also the author of The Perfect Frame: Presenting Indian Art: Stories and Photographs from the Kekoo Gandhy Collection (2003).
Sonal Khullar (University of Washington), "Bahaar Aayi [It is Spring Again]: The Lahore Biennale (2018)"
Taking its cue from Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s lyric poem “Bahaar Aayi [It is Spring Again],” this paper examines the inaugural Lahore Biennale in the context of changes to Basant (spring festival) celebrations in Pakistan, notably a ban on kite-flying imposed in 2011. It considers the Biennale within a growing network of regional art events, including the Colombo Art Biennale (established 2009), the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (established 2012), the Dhaka Art Summit (established 2012), and the Karachi Biennale (established 2017), which have reconfigured South Asia and the art world. It shows how the Lahore Biennale engaged local, national, and global histories and politics, and propelled critical debates on postcoloniality, secularity, and religion.
2018 Biography: Sonal Khullar is Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Washington. She is the author of Worldly Affiliations: Artistic Practice, National Identity, and Modernism in India, 1930–1990 (University of California Press, 2015), which received the Bernard S. Cohn Book Prize of the Association of Asian Studies in 2017. She is writing a book, The Art of Dislocation, on conflict, collaboration, and globalization in contemporary art from South Asia. Her research has been supported by the College Art Association, the American Council of Learned Societies, the American Institute of Indian Studies, the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, and the Japan Foundation.