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In Session: Document, Monument, Event: Contemporary Art and Visual Culture in India, 1991-2021
1: New Forms of Dissent: Video Art, Intermedial Installation and Hindu Nationalism in 1990s India
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
8:30am – 10:00am EDT
Wesleyan University, United States
The 1990s in India saw artists like Vivan Sundaram, Nalini Malani, and Navjot Altaf among others break out of the white cube to confront the provocations instigated by the right-wing assault on Indian democracy. As the political upsurge of Hindutava manifested itself through communal violence, demands for censorship, the violation of artistic freedom and use of new media technology for indoctrination and mobilization, artists felt compelled to move away from earlier history and iconographies of their practices to both articulate their political positions and new strategies of intervention in the turbulent public sphere. Situated at an interface of the rise of religious fundamentalism, communalization of politics, and post-liberalization opening of India’s state-managed, semi-socialist economy to global markets, this paper will examine the emergence of video and multi-media installation art. My focus will be on ways in which artists’ experiment with video to develop new methods of figuration, aesthetics and modes of engaging in the public sphere in response to the rapid political and cultural transformations that swept over India in the 1990s. The paper will show how the interstices of video technology, communalism and rapid development of media infrastructure in the 1990s opens up a new dimension to the development of video as a medium. With the decentralisation of video, easy production and dissemination of images, the 1990s witnesses an expansion of the bias towards largely documentary functions and ‘small media aesthetics’ of video with its development as an art form and a mode of protest by contemporary Indian artists.