This lecture explores the multiple facets of Indian modernism. The narrative begins with the question: If modernism, in the Western context, is defined as a rejection of tradition, just how does a 5,000-year-old traditional culture such as India manage to make modern art? It somehow unfolds to us in a more tangled and complex manner, influenced by factors such as urbanism, primitivism and neologism. Unlike their counterparts in the West, Indian artists made modern art not by shocking and rejecting, but by assimilating elements from innumerable artistic traditions.
Modernism first took root on the Indian subcontinent with the establishment of colonial art colleges that followed the curriculum of the Royal College of Arts in London. The introduction of Western ideas generated great debate and conflict. Hence a group of Asian and European intellectuals, including Englishman Ernst Binfield, Japanese curator Okakuro Kakuzo and Chinese artist Xu Beihong, created the Pan-Asian alliance to counteract the pervasive influence of Western academic naturalism promoted by the government colleges. The movement swept through India and spread to other Asian countries as well, resulting in an international aesthetic and ideology. Thus began the story of Indian modernism.
Sundaram Tagore is a New York-based art historian and gallerist. A descendant of the influential poet and Nobel Prize winner Rabindranath Tagore, he promotes East-West dialogues in multicultural and multidisciplinary events globally. He has worked with many international organizations including The Peggy Guggenheim Foundation, Venice, Italy; Metropolitan Museum of Art; Museum of Modern Art, New York; United Nations; Pace Wildenstein Gallery. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate of Oxford University, and he writes for numerous art publications. In 1999, he was nominated by Avenue magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential Asian Americans in the United States. Recently, he was profiled in a 30-minute special interview with CNN International’s Talk Asia.