Reading and Writing about Visual Experience: Colonial Pasts, Decolonial Futures: South Asia in the Museum
Tuesday, Thursday: 3:30-5:00pm
This course will trace the histories of displaying and interpreting the art of South Asia from the nineteenth century to the present, as well as explore new possibilities for curating South Asian art in the future. In addition to studying shifts in the display of South Asian art, we will also interrogate the political and theoretical stakes of curating non-western art more broadly. How do museums shape our understanding of history? What are the predominant frameworks, themes, narratives, objects and images in exhibitions that are focused on the cultures and histories of South Asia? How have museums acknowledged (or disregarded) histories of imperial rule, labor exploitation, economic extraction, racism, and ecological violence in their exhibitions? How might we imagine new practices of displaying and collecting, particularly in response to recent calls to “decolonize” the museum?
A study of the history of the art museum from its colonial inception (the Indian Museum in Calcutta) to its postcolonial iterations (the National Museum in New Delhi) will foreground the ways in which museums were mobilized for imperial and nationalist aspirations in and beyond South Asia. Moving chronologically, we will examine key exhibitions of South Asian art including (but not limited to) the 1968 exhibition Unknown India at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the 1985-86 Festival of India in the United States, and the 2011 Maharaja and 2014 Yoga exhibitions at the Asian Art Museum. A speaking Shiva sculpture will open for us the arguments for and against the restitution of stolen antiquities. The course will conclude with a reflection on museums’ role in the present and an invitation to imagine new ways to transform museums into spaces of diversity, inclusion, social justice, and anti-racism.
The aim of this course is to develop the skills to effectively analyze museum practices and, more broadly, be effective readers, writers and researchers at the college level. We will achieve these goals by closely reading critical texts, writing well-organized, argumentative essays of varied lengths, and conducting original research for a final research paper. This course fulfills the second half of the Reading and Composition (R&C) requirement.