On view February 8–July 1, 2018

Sunil Das (Indian, born 1939), Untitled (Shiva?). Mixed media on card. Gift of Leonard Gordon (Class of 1959) in memory of Professor Frank Trapp.
Sunil Das (Indian, born 1939), Untitled (Shiva?). Mixed media on card. Gift of Leonard Gordon (Class of 1959) in memory of Professor Frank Trapp.

Following India’s independence from British colonial rule in 1947, painters, sculptors, and printmakers from the region heatedly debated the role that art would play in the new nation. Among the issues raised was the degree to which contemporary artists would draw on local styles and motifs, while also participating in the visual language of modernism, a movement—putatively European in origin—that was associated with universal expression. Jamini Roy (1887–1972), for example, fused modernism’s abstraction with the idioms and iconography native to his home state of West Bengal. Working in Rajasthan, the Bombay artist M.F. Husain (1915–2011) used montage, an experimental film-editing technique, to portray his painting and villagers’ everyday activities as parallel projects: improvisational, creative, and fundamental to the construction of a postcolonial India. Through these means, Roy and Husain introduced a diverse range of regional traditions to a broader public.

Yet vernacular practices propagated through other means, as well. The sale of devotional images at pilgrimage destinations and the circulation of storytellers, who often traveled with painted narrative scrolls in tow, broadcast local idioms well beyond their places of origin. Governmental efforts to promote women’s painting in the villages of northeastern India during the 1960s further spurred international recognition of the country’s “folk” artistic traditions. Like their more worldly counterparts, these artists also adapted their practices to suit new political, economic, and social realities.

Drawing upon recent gifts to the Mead from Leonard Gordon, Class of 1959, and Georgana Falb Foster, New Publics: Art for a Modern India, 1960s–90s illustrates the intertwined relationship of cosmopolitan and vernacular artistic traditions, and the multiple audiences that they have engaged. Along with works by Roy and Husain, the exhibition features drawings, paintings, and sculpture by Sunil Das, Gauri Chitrakar, and Shanti Devi, among other artists.

Organized by Yael Rice, assistant professor of the History of Art and Asian Languages and Civilizations, with assistance from Shreeansh Agrawal ’20.

Opening Reception

Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018, 6–7:30 p.m.
Mead Art Museum

Celebrate the opening of New Publics: Art for a Modern India, 1960s–90s at the opening reception with remarks by Amherst College President Biddy Martin. Free and open to all.