The Utopian Horizons of a Post-imperial Future: Insurgent Collage in Interwar India
1937. In the backdrop of a world veering precariously close to the Second World War, the Indian artist Abanindranath Tagore began a manuscript, an artists’ book of sorts, based on the epic Ramayana. 207 collages, which combined photographs, cinema reviews, advertisements, and typography from contemporary newspapers, accompanied the artist’s handwritten text. While the text broadly followed the Indian epic, the collages invoked a transcontinental cast of characters including Japan’s Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe, Hitler, and Stalin, and events such as Italy’s aggression on Ethiopia and the Spanish Civil War. As the first collage by an Indian artist, the project opens up the history and historiography of twentieth-century art to several compelling questions, some of which will be taken up in this talk. As we will see, the collages belonged to a new register of modernist aesthetic thought and practice, one that reworked the illustrative presence of documentary photography to enunciate a utopian post-imperial global horizon. The promise of modernism, the talk contends, remained obdurately lodged within this utopian imagination of an egalitarian future, a future that lay beyond the limits of the interwar world order. In the collages, the aspiration for, and the expectation of, sovereignty thus assumed discursive and material form in an anti-realist aesthetic that closely approximated a utopian vision for a post-imperial political future. Anti-realist because, expectation withstanding, this post-imperial future was not yet actualized in any real dimension. Modernism, then, was the name of that which gave this global post-imperial future shape in a still colonized interwar present.
Dr. Atreyee Gupta is Jane Emison Assistant Curator of South and Southeast Asian art at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Her research interests include art, visual cultures, and intellectual histories of 20th-century South Asia; the intersections between the Cold War, the Non-Aligned Movement, and artistic practices; and Global Modernisms. She trained in art history at the University of Minnesota in the US and the M.S. University Baroda in India. Prior to joining MIA, she was based in Germany, first at Haus der Kunst, Munich and then at the Art Histories and Aesthetic Practices Program of the Kunsthistorisches Institut Florenz - Max-Planck-Institut at the Forum Transregionale Studien, Berlin. Alongside curatorial projects on contemporary Buddhist art of South and Southeast Asia and the art and history of the South Asian diaspora in the US, she is completing a monograph that focuses on abstraction in interwar and postwar painting, sculpture, photography, and experimental film in South Asia. Other ongoing projects include Converging Cultures, an exhibition on the impact of the Asian diaspora on Latin American art (co-curated for the Art Museum of the Americas); Postwar - Art between the Pacific and the Atlantic, 1945–1965 (co-edited with Okwui Enwezor); and Global Modernism/s: Infrastructures of Contiguities, ca. 1905–1965 (co-edited with Hannah Baader and Patrick Flores).
A "research seminar" featuring work in progress will be presented the following day, to which faculty and graduate students are invited: 11:15 a.m., 308B Doe Library.