Making Worlds, Making Way: Queer Belongings in Indian Contemporary Art (1980-2000)
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Making Worlds, Making Way: Queer Belongings in Indian Contemporary Art (1980-2000)

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This dissertation project concerns photography and painting in India from the long 1980s and ‘90s: decades marked by heightened religious factionalism, the ascendency of the Hindu right, and the country’s increased economic integration with world markets. In this period of flux, metropolitan centers like Mumbai and New Delhi, as well as regional sites such as Baroda, witnessed the emergence of practitioners who had come of age in an independent nation, trained at institutions across the country that were actively attempting to decolonize their pedagogy. While most studies of Indian art in the twentieth century have framed their discussions using a national-cultural model as an interpretative lens, my research asks how artists called the very tenets of democratic secular nationalism into question by pursuing images of daily life, its affects and ephemera, using an analytical frame informed by queer, feminist, and postcolonial theories. By addressing the work of an intergenerational cohort of artists, including Nilima Sheikh, Arpita Singh, Bhupen Khakhar, and Dayanita Singh, I show how these practices imagined relationality, community, and identity outside of state-sanctioned articulations of nationhood. I use the key principles of friendship, kinship, conviviality, intimacy, and belonging to anchor my investigation, providing counterpoints to the civilizational narratives that evolved at independence to ground nationalist sensibilities and ultimately consolidate right-wing support for the Hindutva. Following from recent debates in queer studies, I resist the monumental category of “the national,” searching instead for subnational ties in order to locate disruptive sites of meaning. This includes instances of unexpected collaboration, for example, in Dayanita Singh’s photographs, or representations of tender adoration between queer men in the work of Bhupen Khakhar. In doing so, my dissertation shows how major figures in twentieth-century South Asian art have consistently resisted attempts to shore up a stabilized national identity by creating images that deal with the politics of quotidian life and portray subtle resistances to Brahmanical heterosexist patriarchy.

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This item is under embargo until December 2, 2024.