Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Center for Contemporary South Asia

Art History from the South

Art History from the South 2018-2020
Founded by Vazira Zamindar, convened with Tapati Guha-Thakurta in Fall 2018 

Sketch of artists without heads


When Theory from the South (TFS) started as a reading group in 2014, to generate conversations from a geographic and epistemic "south," it took on a range of different questions - from comparative thinking around Islamophobia, antisemitism and racism, the antinomies of democracy and citizenship, to the possibilities of (failed) revolutionary and insurrectionary thought. However, in shifting sites of enquiry the old colonial problematic of "world-ing" (what Spivak once challenged as the "worlding of a world" as if on an uninscribed earth) did not go away, albeit was clearly being reconfigured in new (potentially decolonizing) engagements of global history that not only tracked untended connections, but also put presumptions of nearness and distance to scrutiny. As such in 2016-7 TFS aligned with the Sawyer Seminar on Displacement and Modernity to particularly focus on "world-ing" in itinerant histories of migration.

This year (2018-9) TFS reincarnates as Art History from the South and takes the gesture of world-ing into questions of art and history (for after all Spivak was responding to Heidegger’s "Origins of a Work of Art," and her concern with representation sutured the painting to the bureaucratic colonial archive, the inventiveness of "great" art to the entrenched routine of institutions). In some respects probing the implications of world-ing in art and history, the intertwined visual and discursive fields, Art History from the South takes cue from Okwui Enwezor's landmark 2002 Documenta 11, and its aftermath. When Enwezor wrote "I do not raise the specter of Eurocentrism as an epithet." his concern was not merely with opening up space for artists from the south, but rather taking on the inseparable subjection of judgment and interpretation. He wrote: "Practices that have come out of other traditions have been subordinated, for better or worse, to those judgments. The relationship between exclusivist and culturally specific judgments, elevated to universal principles, has left an indelible mark on the development of the non-Western artistic canons, leaving them largely under the interpretive control of institutions of colonial modernity." In Fall 2018, Art History from the South will take on the problem of writing about, of historicizing non-Western art (often catalogued and ordered as tradition, craft, civilization), and, with a focus primarily on South Asia, engage the discipline and institutions of art history. As such the Art History from the South lecture series will align with the Cogut Institute Collaborative Humanities graduate seminar of the same title (HMAN 2400H: Art History from the South: Circulations, Simulations, Transfigurations), as well as the Cogut Institute Collaborative Humanities international symposium entitled How Secular is Art? to be held on October 26-27, 2018.

Stuart Hall described, with exhilaration, the experience of walking through halls of Documenta's "massively excluded discourses, images," and declared that this very "interpretive control" of colonial modernity" was now in crisis. Hall commented on the ambiguous response the show had generated (which NYT, for instance, had condescendingly described as “retro-ethno-techno”), but explained with optimism that over the last two decades "the thematics of visual representation have been massively rewritten from the margins, from the excluded; and this is precisely the contest being played out within that global circuit of cultural production." In Spring 2019 Art History from the South will embrace the optimism and potential expressed by Hall (and so evident also in Jean and John Comorroff's 1996 article from which TFS drew its name) of transformations and contestations from the margins, the decentering and dispersal of canons, the explosion of archives, through new kinds of artistic and curatorial practices. As such the Art History from the South speaker series will focus on the rebellion of the contemporary (artists and institutions), and align with an undergraduate seminar (HIST 1956C: Art History from the South II: Archive of the Contemporary) as well as collaborate with Paula Gaetano-Adi, Head of Experimental and Foundational Studies at RISD, RISD Global and the RISD Museum. Along with Cogut, Brown's department of History of Art and Architecture is also a co-sponsor of Art History from the South series.

FALL 2018 | Art History from the South Speakers:

Naila Mahmood, Documentary Photographer and Director of VASL Artists Collective, Pakistan
Inner City Kitchens in Karachi: a microcosm of the crowded city
September 25-26, 2018
*Co-sponsored with RISD Global

Natasha Eaton, UCL, UK, Author of Mimesis and Empire, and editor of Decolonial Imaginaire special issue in Third Text
Decolonial Mimesis in South Asia
October 30-31, 2018

Graduate Seminar: HMAN 2400H: Art History from the South: Circulations, Simulations, Transfigurations

Instructors: Tapati Guha-Thakurta and Vazira Zamindar

Addressing history and art history, this collaborative seminar will look at the colonial and postcolonial circuits of movement, transaction and replication that have shaped not just the destinies of art, archaeological and architectural objects but equally the structures of institutions and disciplines that govern these object-worlds. This will involve thinking through critiques of a Eurocentric aesthetics and art history and engaging with practices such as theft, fugitivity, replication, mimicry, and free adaptations. While drawing on South Asia for its primary lines of enquiry, the "south" of South Asia in this seminar will serve more broadly as an epistemic pull.

International Symposium at the Cogut Institute for Humanities, Brown University

How Secular is Art? On the Art of Art History in South Asia
Dates:  26-27 October, 201
Symposium organisers: Tapati Guha-Thakurta and Vazira Zamindar

Concept Note for Symposium:

Through the evolving discipline of art history and its institutional apparatus in South Asia, there was an elaborate distilling of a ‘secular’ field, in which both the art of the ancient and medieval past as well as of the modern nation came to be positioned. The modern epistemology of ‘art’ could accommodate as effectively the religious productions and iconographies of the nation’s past as the repertoire of divine and mythological imagery in the art of the present. If ‘Indian’ art traditions came to be invested with a uniquely ‘spiritual’ character, the ‘spiritual’ could be seen as a markedly secular designation: one that would give the religious objects of the past a new sacral stature of ‘art’.

Yet, the distinction between the ‘secular’ and ‘religious’ has always been a fraught one. Even as the categories of the ‘Indic’ and the ‘Islamic’ came to be fundamentally shaped by art history, they also became contesting grounds in the forging of a national inheritance. The partition of the subcontinent on a religious basis intensified the claims of religious difference and incommensurability. In recent times, the ‘secular’ habitus for art in contemporary South Asia appears more threatened than ever before, amidst surging claims of the ‘religious’ and of ‘religious difference’. In this context, how should we comprehend the shifting field of art objects and their histories? Do we look upon these shifts as the inadequate formations of the ‘secular’ or the restoration of the fundamentally ‘religious’ content of art?

The symposium positions itself at the cusp of two dominant discourses in the field of South Asian art history – (i) one, a lingering trend of Orientalist and nationalist projections that emphasise the quintessentially ‘religious’ nature of South Asian artistic traditions as against the secularisation of art in the West (ii) the other, a counter assertion of the powerful place of art within the modern secular life of nations, that takes for granted the transitions of objects from earlier religious to new artistic denominations within the disciplinary folds of museums and art histories. One of the concerns of the symposium will be to question these temporal, spatial and cultural binaries between the ‘religious’ and the ‘secular’ and look at the current forms of interlocutions and interpellations of both these categories in contemporary scholarship as well as practice.

As an invitation to interrogate the secular temporality of art, how do we complicate the religious designations of the field of pre-modern art and architecture and its relationship to the nation-form? How does the inclusion of popular and contemporary art into the field of art history transform the religious claims of the past? What are the residues, returns and reinventions of the ‘religious’ in the contemporary that call out for engagement? How do we reconceptualize the public and the political - as fiery contestations and new curatorial practices reconfigure the meaning of objects through the proliferating mediated spaces of museums, galleries, biennales and the academy? How do we understand the South Asian discipline’s deep entanglements with the politics of the present? Do we have to fundamentally rethink the ‘art’ of ‘art history’ itself in order to understand and intervene in our turbulent present?

Speakers and Participants:

Ariella Azoulay, Brown University
Akeel Bilgrami, Columbia University
Iftikhar Dadi, Cornell University
Finbarr Barry Flood, New York University
Kajri Jain, University of Toronto
Santhi Kavuri-Bauer, San Francisco State University
Sonal Khullar, University of Washington, Seattle
Jinah Kim, Harvard University
Leora Maltz-Leca, Rhode Island School of Design
Saloni Mathur, University of California, Los Angeles
Sumathi Ramaswamy, Duke University
Tamara Sears, Rutgers University
Kavita Singh, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
Foad Torshizi, Rhode Island School of Design
Laura Weinstein, Coomaraswamy Curator of South Asian Art at Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Karin Zizewitz, Michigan State University

SPRING 2019 | Art History from the South Speakers:

Hammad Nasar, Director of Stuart Hall Foundation and co-curator of London-Asia and British Art Show 9
Art and Migration: Curating Entangled Histories
Q&A with Barrymore Bogues and Leela Gandhi
February 20, 2019

Decolonizing the Museum: A Teach-In
A community discussion of the French report on The Restitution of African Cultural Heritage
March 6, 2019
This event was covered by the Brown Daily Herald and the Providence Journal. Watch event webcast.

Worlding the World of Art: A Conversation between Latin America and Asia
With curators Florencia Malbran and Natasha Ginwala
April 3, 2019

HIST 1956C: Art History from the South II: Archive of the Contemporary

Instructor: Vazira Zamindar

This seminar will follow from the Humanities seminar of the same title, but focus on contemporary art in particular, asking how the “contemporary” is configured in relation to modernity at large, its national and global articulations in the aftermath of postcolonial studies and the impulse to "decolonize" in particular. Drawing out conversations between history and art, it will interrogate the dismantling, reconstitution and aesthetics of the archive, and the work of contemporary artists like Kara Walker, Amar Kanwar, Ariella Azoulay and Waleed Raad in rethinking history and the representation of violence.

Art History from the South 2019-2020

Organized by Itohan Osayimwese, Holly Shaffer, and Vazira Zamindar

In it's second year, the interdisciplinary forum, Art History from the South, engages experimental practices of art and architectural history that emerge from—and make connections across—the geographic and epistemic ‘south.’ In the format of a reading group that will meet twice a semester with one artist’s talk, the program includes scholars from Brown and beyond who will discuss their innovations in practicing art and architectural history. Together, we will consider arts across a range of locations and historical circumstances, test out methods like listening to images and tracing terminologies, and consider a variety of perspectives from eco-aesthetics and feminism to studies of diaspora, migration, and foodways.