Arts and Culture
In this paper I will expand on the moment of the 1940s in Indian art – with its characteristic association with histories of left-wing activism, late-colonial populist politics and socio-political ruptures of war, famine, genocide. Focusing on the rhetoric of taking art “to the people” that dominated this period, I will draw the multiple ways in which urban artists undertook “journeys” into and across the rural hinterland – both in search for social content and in sincere yet ambiguous romances of socialism. Journeys, I will argue, were quests that were both aesthetic and political, deeply subjective and yet an artist's extensions into art’s public potentialities. While studies of Indian modernism search for a “progressive” idiom in such figures and artistic initiatives, I will propose to understand such journeys via the complex motivations at play – which in turn can nuance the political components of modernity in Indian art. Such journeys also allow us to capture the class dimensions of Indian modernism - peculiar in the urban artist's rural transits - and yet, rarely drawn out in art's historical narratives in India. Journeys in visual art present curious entries into understanding the “global” in Indian art – not only along what Sonal Khullar has called art’s “worldly affiliations”, or what scholars of global modernisms increasingly see as global connections and flows – but as vernacular motions through which global currents are materialised and refracted locally.