Past Events

Infrastructures of Thought, Networks of Practice: Indian Feminist Art in and with Britain in the 1990s

Research Seminar – Karin Zitzewitz

  • 7 December 2022
  • 6:00 – 8:00 pm
  • Paul Mellon Centre and Online

The mid-1990s witnessed a newfound prominence of Indian woman artists, including Anita Dube (b. 1958), Pushpamala N. (b. 1956), Rummana Hussain (1952–1999) and Sheela Gowda (b. 1957). Their emergent practices have been understood either as products of the art world’s newly global geographies or as a form of specifically Indian feminist discourse – both narratives that subsume changes in artistic form in other aspects of artistic production. And yet, these artists were deeply committed to breaking with the artistic disciplines of their own training and experience, by moving from painting into installation, combining performance and photography, and emphasising materiality. This paper describes how these formal changes were supported by exchanges between Indian feminist artists and artists and curators in the UK. Small-scale but prescient curatorial projects in British institutions allowed artists to produce new work on relatively grand scales in presentations that grouped their work in imaginative ways. The artistic results were often truly groundbreaking, productive of a formally innovative artistic language that was legible to both Indian and UK audiences. But curatorial frames that emphasised storytelling and self-representation – the artists’ “identity” as Indian women – fit uneasily around works of art that reject narrative in favour of the materiality of everyday objects, of film or photography, or of the body. Drawn from Infrastructure and Form: The Global Networks of Indian Contemporary Art, 1991–2008, the present paper suggests a method for understanding these works as a function of a complex and balanced relationship between the infrastructures that support art – ranging from frameworks of thought, to modes of communication and travel, to the availability of materials – and the formal choices made by artists.

Listing image caption: Anita Dube, Rummana Hussain, Ayesha Abraham, and Rasna Bhushan, British Council, Delhi, 1997. Photograph by Ram Rahman, courtesy of the artist.

About the speaker

  • Karin Zitzewitz headshot

    Karin Zitzewitz is an associate professor of Art History at Michigan State University. She is the author of Infrastructure and Form: The Global Networks of Indian Contemporary Art, 1991-2008 (2022), The Art of Secularism: The Cultural Politics of Modernist Art in Contemporary India (2014) and The Perfect Frame, the 2003 memoirs of Mumbai gallerist Kekoo Gandhy. Her research has been supported by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the American Institute for Indian Studies, and the Fulbright program. She is a former Chair of the editorial board of Art Journal and Art Journal OPEN.