Trajectories of Tradition: A Rajput Intervention
Location: Palamountain Hall: Davis Auditorium
Time: 5:30 PM
Speaker: Molly Aitken, Associate Professor of Art History, CUNY
In early 20th-century India, Abanindranath Tagore undertook to rejuvenate India's painting traditions in order to create a national alternative to European-style oil painting. He and his followers came to be called the Bengal School. Histories of India's modern art inevitably recount this episode, following a now familiar trajectory that starts with the establishment of British art institutions in India and the subsequent demise of the Subcontinent's artistic traditions. This talk questions the premise of artistic demise by taking a closer look at how India's court artists answered colonial-era challenges to their traditions. It focuses on the project of a father and son, Rahim and Chotu, to reformulate royal portraiture at the Rajput court of Bikaner in the 1860s and 70s. Strategically traditional and not-traditional, the prototype the two Rajput court artists devised was realized in several versions, including a superb portrayal of Bikaner's Maharaja Sardar Singh at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. A close reading of their prototype and the drawings that led up to it, will not only highlight how they viewed the place of their tradition in India's rapidly changing visual culture, but will also bring to the fore the kinds of art historical elisions that were essential to the Bengal School's success. In doing so, the talk will disorder the established art historical narrative to reopen its assumptions for discussion.