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

In February 2023, How Secular is Art? On the Politics of Art, History and Religion in South Asiaa new book by Vazira Fazila-Yocoobali Zamindar and co-author Tapati Guha-Thakurta was published by Cambridge University Press. 

Stemming from a 2018 symposium, contributions to the edition also include Akeel Bilgrami, Kajiri Jain, Zehra Jumabhoy, Santhi Kavuri-Bauer, Sumathi Ramaswamy, Tamara Sears, Holly Shaffer, Kavita Singh, Sanjukta Sunderason, and Karin Zitzewitz. 

As an invitation to interrogate the secular modality of art, the book unsettles both the categories of ‘art’ and ‘secular’ in their theoretical and historical implications. It questions the temporal, spatial, and cultural binaries between the ‘sacred’ and the ‘secular’ that have shaped art historical scholarship as well as artistic practice. Thinking from the south, all the essays here are anchored in a conception of a region – one fissured by histories of partition, state formations, and religious nationalisms but still offering a collective site from which to speak to the disciplines of art and the knowledge worlds in which they are embedded. The book asks: How do we complicate the religious designations of pre-modern art and architecture and the new forms of their resurgence in contemporary iconographies and monuments? How do we re-conceptualize the public and the political, as fiery contestations and new curatorial practices reconfigure the meaning of art in the proliferating spaces of museums, galleries, biennales and festivals? How do we understand South Asian art’s deep entanglements with the politics of the present?