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Skidmore College

Early 20th-century Indian art to be lecture topic

March 24, 2013

The Department of Art History will present City College of New York scholar Molly Aitken for a lecture, "Trajectories of Tradition: a Rajput Intervention,” scheduled at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 27, in Davis Auditorium, Palamountain Hall.

Admission is free and open to the public.

Aitken, a specialist in the art of South Asia, will explore early 20th-century Indian art, specifically the efforts then by
 Abanindranath Tagore 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.  

Aitken’s talk will question the premise of artistic demise by taking a closer look at how India’s court artists answered colonial-era challenges to their traditions. She will focus 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. Aitken will disorder the established art historical narrative to reopen its assumptions for discussion.

An award-winning scholar, Aitken is an associate professor of art history at City College, where she has taught since 2008. She earned a B.A. at Harvard and two master’s degrees and a doctorate at Columbia University.

She is the author of two books, When Gold Blossoms: Indian Jewelry from the Susan L. Beningson Collection (2004), and The Intelligence of Tradition in Rajput Court Painting (2010). The latter won two awards: the Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy Book Prize in 2012 from the Association for Asian Studies and the Charles Rufus Morey Book Award in 2011 from the College Art Association.

She has curated traveling exhibitions on South Asian jewelry and contemporary folk quilts, and has published numerous articles on Mughal and Rajput paintings.

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