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Paul Mellon Centre | Indian Feminist Art in and with Britain in the 1990s with Karin Zitzewitz

December 7, 2022 @ 12:00 pm - 2:00 pm

Indian Feminist Art in and with Britain in the 1990s with Karin Zitzewitz

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.