There are illuminating reasons for the slowness of American & European response to India’s contemporary art. For most Americans in particular, India is very far away .American interest in India has been passing & intermittent, centered on Gandhi, gurus & yoga & lately on the growing popularity of chai(spiced Indian tea), mehendi(hand decorations using henna) & bindi(an auspicious forehead decoration). In keeping with America’s level of interest ,Indian art had ,by mid-century, been allotted a modest place in the American scheme of world art; virtually every major art museum built a collection of Indian art-Hindu & Buddhist temple sculptures, Mughal & Rajput miniature paintings. But almost without exception, these collections included nothing created after 1850. To this day, American collections of Indian art remain locked in the past. More fundamental reasons that recent Indian art has been overlooked can be found in the relationship between the colonizers & the colonized in India. Given the British conviction that their own race & civilization were the world’s most advanced, the best that the art schools could do in Calcutta, Madras & Bombay-from a British perspective, was to foster second-rate art. this steadfast belief in the West’s superiority for a long time effectively prevented Indian art from being seen.
Though Westerners in the colonial period & after may have been unable to ”see” & appreciate it, Indian art was developing in dramatic new directions. Ironically, the art schools founded by the British to sustain traditional arts nurtured unintended developments. Art training became available to a wider segment of the population. The schools attracted students from families who understood the social & economic advantages of formal, British style education, not from families of professional artists whose traditional apprenticeships obviated the need for formal training. And these students, through their British-style training, their residence in British-Indian cities & their acquisition of English( which was becoming the lingua franca of the urban elite) acquired a cosmopolitan lifestyle, as well as a new kind of art education, from which Indian modernism arose.
The training in Western techniques-oil painting, figure drawing & perspective-provided students with a thorough grounding in Western Art, making it, in effect, an element of their own tradition. The Indian Nationalist movement, which was then growing in the cities, also encouraged art students to explore Indian art from the past (which was not covered in most art schools’ curricula) & to learn about other Asian arts as well. As a result, Indian artists of the 20th century now have a much richer, more inclusive art heritage, drawn broadly & deeply from world art, from which to develop their own approaches to art, approaches that profoundly reflect the circumstances of artists in a postcolonial, global environment. the unexpected legacy of these colonial institutions was to prepare Indian artists more effectively for the complexly interconnected world in which we all participate at the end of the 20th century.
Even though developments in 20th century Indian art have been barely visible in the United States & eve though at the end of the 20th century ,colonial legacies still often cloud the view from America, artists in India have been evolving their own styles, techniques & approaches to art. To be seen, contemporary Indian art, with its distinct history & diverse sources, must be granted its own space, one neither isolated nor autonomous but hybrid & cosmopolitan.
- Vinayak Pasricha.