Modern South Asian Studies, Leiden Institute for Area Studies
University of Amsterdam, Netherlands
The realism/abstraction binary that sits at the core of the Paris-to-New York story of “modernism” has been one of the most challenging schemas for scholars of Asian modernism to dislodge. Even while contesting the universality of modernism, the process of revising the canon still assumes there are recognizable parallels between the “center” and its “margins” in how modernism is experienced and practiced. As a result, our “expanded” canon still upholds existing prejudices and binaries. The realism/abstraction binary is reinforced by related binaries of East/West, colonialist/indigenous, institutional/avant-garde, and Communist and Socialist versus capitalist, democratic, and “autonomous” modernisms.
This roundtable challenges canonical and binary debates on the Socialism/Modernism question via inter-Asian rather than center/periphery frames of comparison. This deliberately broad-ranging panel juxtaposes histories of formal and political struggle in India, Pakistan, Japan, China, and the Philippines. It asks: Is realism antithetical to modernism? Is abstraction inevitable to modernism? What is the role of Socialism (or other ideologies) in mediating modernism for specific nations? The discussants will draw upon their own research and regions of expertise in addressing these questions.
Justin Jesty focuses on the use of parody by so-called anti-artists in late 1950s and early 1960s Japan, to show how the emergence of contemporary art at that time inherited elements of the realism/modernism binary while significantly remapping assumptions about visual language and the politics of form. Chanon Kenji Praepipatmongkol brings his research on Hispano-Filipino and Sino-Thai diasporic histories to bear on the turn from Neo-Realist to Non-Objective form in 1950s Manila, and in view of Manila’s postwar urbanization. Gemma Sharpe outlines debates around abstraction, “art for art’s sake,” and leftist versus nationalist representation among Pakistan’s art community under the dictatorship of the 1960s. Sanjukta Sunderason draws on an archive of Communist and socialist-aligned art in Bengal to parse slippages between social and socialist form, amidst the shifting terms of the nation-state in the decades straddling India’s independence. Yang Wang destabilizes the notion that art of Maoist China bypassed modernism through its political alignment by highlighting the internal logic of artistic decisions made vis-à-vis non-Euro-American international engagements.