Public Lecture by Tapati Guha-Thakurta at KIB on Art and Religion

Thu 22 Mar - Thu 22 Mar' 18

Contesting Careers: The “Artistic” and the “Religious” in Contemporary India - A Lecture by Tapati Guha-Thakurta

The special lecture by Prof. Tapati Guha-Thakurta explored the contentions and paradoxes that have arisen from the blurring of distinctions between the “artistic” and “religious” object across different institutional and public sites in contemporary India. The first part of the lecture revisited the unremitting Hindu right-wing campaign against India’s most iconic modern artist, Maqbool Fida Husain, for his alleged ‘offence’ of painting nude Hindu goddesses. That campaign forced the artist into a life of exile and opened up the vulnerabilities of India’s modern art edifice. The second part of the lecture turned to a contrary set of conflations between the “sacred” and “secular” characterisation of objects, as they move in and out of a vortex of overlapping identities in new fields of display and spectatorship. In order to think about the porous boundaries that allow the “artistic” and the “religious” to trespass into and inhabit each other’s domains, the talk took up the striking reconfiguration of Durga icons as “works of art” during the Kolkata’s annual Durga Puja extravaganza. The final part of the lecture returned to the sphere of contemporary art practices to profile a different order of licence and parody in the works of the Bangalore and Delhi-based artist, N. Pushpamala, that calls into question the sanctity and self-importance of both the “religious” and “artistic” icons of the nation. Through each of these instances, the lecture questions how secure is the habitus of “art”, what kinds of rights over iconographies can it nurture, and what degree of privilege and protection can it confer on images and their makers.

Tapati Guha-Thakurta is a leading scholar of India in the fields of cultural history, history of art and visual studies. Graduating from History at Presidency College, Calcutta and Calcutta University, Tapati Guha-Thakurta did her D.Phil. from the History Faculty, University of Oxford, and is currently Director, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences in Kolkata.

Tapati Guha-Thakurta has written widely and taught courses on art, nationalism and modernity; the institutional practices and political locations of art history and archaeology; the careers of monuments and museum objects; and popular urban visual culture of modern and contemporary India. Her main books are The Making of a New ‘Indian’ Art: Artists, Aesthetics and Nationalism in Bengal, Monuments, Objects, Histories: Institutions of Art in Colonial and Postcolonial India, and In the Name of the Goddess: The Durga Pujas of Contemporary Kolkata. She has also authored exhibition monographs and has co-edited two anthologies of essays – Theorising the Present: Essays for Partha Chatterjee and New Cultural Histories of India: Materiality and Practices.

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