Monuments, Objects, Histories

Monuments, Objects, Histories: Institutions of Art in Colonial and Post-Colonial India

Tapati Guha-Thakurta
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 432
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/guha12998
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Monuments, Objects, Histories
    Book Description:

    Art history as it is largely practiced in Asia as well as in the West is a western invention. In India, works of art-sculptures, monuments, paintings-were first viewed under colonial rule as archaeological antiquities, later as architectural relics, and by the mid-20th century as works of art within an elaborate art-historical classification. Tied to these views were narratives in which the works figured, respectively, as sources from which to recover India's history, markers of a lost, antique civilization, and symbols of a nation's unique aesthetic, reflecting the progression from colonialism to nationalism. The nationalist canon continues to dominate the image of Indian art in India and abroad, and yet its uncritical acceptance of the discipline's western orthodoxies remains unquestioned, the original motives and means of creation unexplored. The book examines the role of art and art history from both an insider and outsider point of view, always revealing how the demands of nationalism have shaped the concept and meaning of art in India. The author shows how western custodianship of Indian "antiquities" structured a historical interpretation of art; how indigenous Bengali scholarship in the late 19th and early 20th centuries attempted to bring Indian art into the nationalist sphere; how the importance of art as a representation of national culture crystallized in the period after Independence; and how cultural and religious clashes in modern India have resulted in conflicting "histories" and interpretations of Indian art. In particular, the author uses the depiction of Hindu goddesses to elicit conflicting scenarios of condemnation and celebration, both of which have at their core the threat and lure of the female form, which has been constructed and narrativized in art history.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50351-8
    Subjects: Art & Art History, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. xvii-xxvi)

    ALL HISTORY WRITING, we are frequently reminded, is premised on the present.¹ Pasts become meaningful and usable only when they are activated by the contemporary desires of individuals and communities, and, most powerfully, by the will of nations. And disciplinary fields such as history, archaeology, and art history, with their changing conceptual tools and methodologies, stand over time as the chief sites of authorization of ancient pasts that come into being in an avowedly modern era. The essays gathered in this book are centrally about such practices of the production of lost pasts in modern India, pasts that come to...

  6. PART I The Colonial Past
    • I THE EMPIRE AND ITS ANTIQUITIES: TWO PIONEERS AND THEIR SCHOLARLY FIELDS
      (pp. 3-42)

      THIS CHAPTER IS ABOUT beginnings and foundations. Like most beginnings that mark out the “modern” era in Indian history, my starting points, too, locate themselves squarely in the country’s colonial past. The story, as is typical, begins with the first British civilians and officers who took up the cause of retrieving India’s “lost” history from the ancient ruins and monuments that pervaded the terrain, who also saw themselves as conferring order and system on the modes of studying and interpreting these structural remains. Their careers thus signal the inauguration of the modern scholarly fields of Indian art, architecture, and archaeology,...

    • 2 THE MUSEUM IN THE COLONY: COLLECTING, CONSERVING, CLASSIFYING
      (pp. 43-82)

      This chapter unravels another inceptionary moment: the making of the institution of the museum in colonial India. If Kipling’s Kim stands as the archetype of Indian imperial fiction, the “Wonder House” of Lahore has come to embody the quintessential image of the colonial museum. This chapter is about another such “Ajaib Ghar” in Calcutta (still known locally as the Jadu Ghar),¹ the first to be instituted in India in the seat of colonial power, conceived over time as an imperial museum that would hold a representative Indian collection (see fig. 2.1). It is also about the differences in form, functioning,...

  7. PART II Regional Frames
    • 3 INTERLOCUTING TEXTS AND MONUMENTS: THE COMING OF AGE OF THE “NATIVE” SCHOLAR
      (pp. 85-111)

      IN 1834 A BOOK called Essay on the Architecture of the Hindus came out under the auspices of the Oriental Translation Fund of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Unfortunately, the author, Ram Raja (rendered Ram Raz by his colonial patrons;1790–1833), a skilled translator who had risen to the ranks of native judge and magistrate at Bangalore, did not live to see the work published. Four decades later, two other pioneering compendiums on the subjects of India’s ancient monuments—one, a double-volume study entitled The Antiquities of Orissa (vol. 1, 1875; vol. 2, 1880), the other...

    • 4 BETWEEN THE NATION AND THE REGION: THE LOCATIONS OF A BENGALI ARCHAEOLOGIST
      (pp. 112-139)

      THIS CHAPTER MOVES FORWARD to the turn of the twentieth century to take up the case of another Bengali scholar in the field of India’s archaeology and ancient history: Rakhaldas Banerjee (1885–1930). The focus, here, is more closely on the emergence of a local forum of archaeological activity in Bengal and on the kinds of claims and contentions that would sustain such a forum. Rajendralal Mitra’s work provides a first point of entry into the world of independent regional scholarship that began to spin off from the expanding folds of colonial education and employment; yet it would take another...

    • 5 WRESTING THE NATION’S PREROGATIVE: ART HISTORY AND NATIONALISM IN BENGAL
      (pp. 140-172)

      THERE IS IN THIS QUOTATION the same resonating sense of decline and loss that haunted the project of creating a regional history and archaeology in early-twentieth-century Bengal. Mourning, it seems, had become a way of being for the emergent national subjects: a way of locating themselves vis-à-vis a past that was long forfeited and a future that was yet to be realized. It has recently been argued that the acquisition of a modern historical consciousness by Indians was largely about learning “the art of waiting”: waiting to catch up with a promised stage of development and civilization¹ in the colony,...

  8. PART III National Claims
    • 6 THE DEMANDS OF INDEPENDENCE: FROM A NATIONAL EXHIBITION TO A NATIONAL MUSEUM
      (pp. 175-204)

      IT IS THE POWER of the conviction expressed in this quotation that impelled the government of India to undertake what it saw to be “the first serious attempt towards stock-taking” of the country’s art heritage through the event of an art exhibition. The occasion was Independence, to commemorate which the new nation-state undertook to arrange in the halls of the Government House, New Delhi, a spectacular display of “Masterpieces of Indian Art.” When the exhibition opened in the winter of 1948, it was described as “the largest, most comprehensive and representative assemblage of the art of India ever seen in...

    • 7 “FOR THE GREATER GLORY OF INDIAN ART”: TRAVELS AND TRAVAILS OF A YAKSHI
      (pp. 205-234)

      THIS EPIGRAPH QUOTES the exultant curatorial description of a sculpted figure that was made the centerpiece of another grand exhibition of Indian sculpture, this time at the National Gallery of Art in Washington in 1985 (see fig. 7.1) From the many “masterpieces” that stood on display at the Rashtrapati Bhavan and became a part of the prized collection of the National Museum of New Delhi, I turn in this chapter to the career of this single art work. One of the earliest samples of Indian sculpture, a celebrated symbol of feminine sexuality, and a traveling emissary of Indian art and...

  9. PART IV The Embattled Present
    • 8 ART HISTORY AND THE NUDE: ON ART, OBSCENITY, AND SEXUALITY IN CONTEMPORARY INDIA
      (pp. 237-267)

      THE MANNERS AND MODES of such artistic “transformations” form the core theme of this chapter.¹ What it explores, however, is both the effects and the limits of such processes of framing and containment. Following the lead of the Didarganj Yakshi, I focus here on the unclothed sensual, feminine figure as one of the most canonical motifs of Indian art. I take up the motif as it features within the domain of early and medieval sculpture in India, especially one key medieval temple site (see fig. 8.1). My concern once again lies primarily with the modern art historical production of such...

    • 9 ARCHAEOLOGY AND THE MONUMENT: ON TWO CONTENTIOUS SITES OF FAITH AND HISTORY
      (pp. 268-304)

      AS HE PUSHED for the passing of the Ancient Monuments Preservation Bill in 1903, Viceroy Curzon grappled with a dilemma that would spill over from India’s colonial to postcolonial history. The urgent task before him had been to demarcate governmental versus community rights over the country’s ancient monuments and to exercise the state’s prerogatives of possession and care.¹ Both the success and the failings of these endeavors have come to be indelibly inscribed on the current life of this monumental heritage in India. As described in earlier chapters, over the nineteenth century, large numbers of the country’s shrines, temples, and...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 305-372)
  11. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 373-392)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 393-404)