This roundtable will discuss Rebecca Brown’s monograph Displaying Time: Many Temporalities of the Festival of India (2017), which is innovative both in its archive and its methodology. Through an “interwoven strand of biography, history, and politics,” Brown delineates the “small times” that conditioned the year-long multi-sited series of exhibitions under the title Festival of India across the United States of America from 1985 through 1986. Brown’s intervention is located within an understanding of the “long 1980s” as a period when a turn to “the contemporary” in the “artscape” was informed in part by the Festival emerging from and feeding into the shifting paradigms of Cold War international diplomacy. Brown focuses on the temporal autonomy of exhibitionary objects and the ways in which they come alive through and independent of curatorial master narratives about exhibitionary spaces. Through seemingly inconsequential temporalities of their media and material, these objects emerge in Brown’s narrative not as static but as dynamic forms forging dialogic interactions with their beholders. She argues, these temporalities of art objects are located within and at the same time help recreate the meta-time of curatorial intervention, cultural diplomacy, international politics, and the wider domain of knowledge production.
The discussants will initiate a critical dialogue with Brown’s analyses that remains fundamental for understanding the Festival. Zitzewitz will argue for Brown’s book as an important corrective to recent museum retrospectives of key contemporary artists that have skipped over the period of the “long 1980s,” and with it, their engagement with post-colonial critique. Bean will reconsider the ups and downs of M. F. Husain’s (1917-2011) career, and his own place in the canon of twentieth century art, using the lens of Brown’s “temporalities.” Mukherjee will trace the unfolding of exhibitionary time by exploring the shifting material realms of clay and terracotta objects, focusing on their making, displaying, and decay. Roychoudhuri will engage with the ideas of “distant contemporary” and “multiple temporality” as she thinks through figures of the monkey impersonator and the Ravana effigy. The author will respond to the discussants’ comments and questions, while also opening up a wider discussion with the audience.