• 3 to 27 November 2015
  • Deadline 12:00 am
  • Paul Mellon Centre

Date of symposium: 30 June & 1 July 2016 at the Paul Mellon Centre.
The symposium will be followed by a public panel discussion on Saturday 2 July 2016 at Tate Modern, to coincide with the Bhupen Khakhar exhibition.

Organised by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art and Asia Art Archive, in collaboration with Tate Modern.

This symposium proposes that exhibitions provide challenging and provocative sites through which to think about artistic exchanges and the two-way traffic between Britain and South Asia. It interrogates the lenses through which artistic production in South Asia have been framed in Britain, and argues that these frames have often been fashioned in colonial times, but continue to shape the reception of the art of South Asia in the contemporary moment. We seek to explore the legacies of such framings, but also take the exhibition to be a site of transaction and transformation, and potentially disturbance and challenge, to the colonialist narrative of and for the art of South Asia.

Moreover, the symposium questions the role of London in the transnational history of modernism and considers London as one of many sites across the world that gave rise to modernity. However, our focus is not limited to London and the event also recognises the key role played by many regional towns and cities in the UK in shaping such histories and hosting important exhibitions. In line with this reasoning, we invite papers that consider not only the relations between Britain and South Asia within the contemporary art world, but also those that examine the role of former colonies for histories of British art, and the role of Britain for the art of South Asia, both pre- and post-independence. The histories of South Asia and Britain have often been separated in museums, galleries, and the academy, and one of the main contentions of this conference is to think about these histories together through exhibitions.

This symposium invites contributions that are anchored around exhibitions of art that took place between 1900 and the present day, as well as proposal that frame a broader enquiry centred on exhibitions of art of South Asia in Britain. Possible themes for exploration could include, but are not limited to:

‘Big’ and ‘small’ exhibitions: the conference seeks proposals that examine both large-scale, state-sponsored events, as well as much smaller and focused art exhibitions.

Festivals and festivalisation: how have efforts – diplomatic, industrial, promotional – to export culture shaped the reception of broader art and culture?

The afterlives of exhibitions: how have exhibitions had an impact on the shaping of art collections or become key markers of curatorial practices and exhibition display?

Mapping collaboration: the role of individual, or groups of, artists and curators in shaping these exhibition histories. How can exhibitions enable us to map the cultural networks connecting Britain and South Asia?

Constructing the nation: exhibitions as nation-making projects of cartographic and narrative intent; dealing with 1947 and 1971

Paying the piper: shifting norms of patronage through philanthropy, public policy and the market including the role of private galleries and institutions such as the Department of Science and Art, Commonwealth Institute and the British Council

Crafting tradition: what roles have ‘tradition’ and ‘craft’ played in framing exhibitions pertaining to South Asia?

The symposium is equally interested in issues of theory and practice, such as comparative trajectories of curatorial and institutional practice; the specificities of site in terms of geography and type; exhibitions as collection building vehicles; language, translation, and circulation of texts; constructions of nation; South Asia in international discourses; comparative studies from regions outside South Asia and Britain; audience-building and issues of reception; the role of the market as site and agent; sites of knowledge production; case studies critically reviewing the influence of key exhibitions, institutions and agents.

To submit:
Please submit by 27 November 2015 to [email protected] listing ‘Showing, Telling, Seeing’ as the subject line:
1. A 200-word abstract written in English
2. Short curriculum vitae with complete e-mail, phone, and mailing address

Incomplete or late submissions will not be considered. Final papers will be delivered in English. There will be some travel and accommodation funding for speakers.

Final entries will be reviewed by the symposium convenors:
Sonal Khullar, Associate Professor, History of Art, University of Washington
Hammad Nasar, Head of Research & Programmes, Asia Art Archive
Devika Singh, Affiliated Scholar, University of Cambridge
Sarah Victoria Turner, Deputy Director for Research, Paul Mellon Centre

This is the first event of London, Asia, a collaborative project organised by the Paul Mellon Centre and Asia Art Archive. This project posits London as a key, yet under-explored, site in the construction of art historical narratives in Asia, and examines its influence through the vehicles of exhibitions, patronage, art writing and art education. London, Asia will also reflect on the ways in which the growing field of modern and contemporary art history in Asia intersects with, and challenges, existing histories of British art. We are not proposing a comparative framework, but rather encouraging new perspectives on the entanglements, historic and contemporary, between London and Asia. As well as looking at examples of particular exhibitions, events, institutions, and individuals, this project will ask broader methodological questions about the ways in which the art histories of Britain and Asia have been, and are being, written, circulated, and negotiated.

Asia Art Archive is an independent non-profit organisation initiated in 2000 in response to the urgent need to document and make accessible the multiple recent histories of art in the region. With an international Board of Directors, an Advisory Board made up of noted scholars and curators, and an in-house research team, AAA has collated one of the most valuable collections of material on contemporary art in the region – open to the public free of charge and increasingly accessible from its website. More than a static repository waiting to be discovered, AAA instigates critical thinking and dialogue for a wide range of audiences via public, research, residential and educational programmes.

Image credit: The Other Story, Hayward Gallery, London (1989). Interior view. (c) Rasheed Araeen. Courtesy Rasheed Araeen and Asia Art Archive.