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Why Now?: The Euro-U.S. Canon Adopts Tarsila do Amaral and Amrita Sher-Gil Almost 90 Years Later


Tarsila do Amaral (Brazil) and Amrita Sher-Gil (India) both actively participated in their respective country’s struggles to develop an anti-colonial national aesthetic in a global modern context. Both used their paintings as tools to challenge Euro-U.S.-centric and patriarchal hegemonies, and for nearly ninety years, both have been criticized, marginalized, and silenced by the Euro-U.S. art world. Since the 1990s, scholars have made conscious efforts to produce a critical art history that disavows Western artistic supremacy and integrates Amaral and Sher-Gil into the Euro-U.S. art historical canonical discourse. But only in the last few years have major museums, auction houses, and social media accounts in Europe and the United States deemed them worthy of inclusion in the canon. Hitherto unexplored, this integration suggests an ostensible institutional volte-face; however, an examination of the conditions that launched Amaral and Sher-Gil into Euro-U.S. consciousness suggests otherwise. My research explores how shifts in the art market and museum culture have shaped Tarsila do Amaral’s and Amrita Sher-Gil’s relationships to the canon, and how those relationships have changed over time. By examining and questioning the shifts in institutional trends, my analysis exposes the enduring legacy of colonial ideology that pervades the Euro-U.S. art world and holds a mirror to the intrinsic hypocrisy of the canon, even an expanded one.

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