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Alkazi Theatre Archives

A Bibliographic Listing from the Archive

Partisan aesthetics: Modern art and India’s long decolonization

Book: Partisan aesthetics: Modern art and India’s long decolonization.
Written by: Sanjukta Sunderason
Published by: Stanford University Press, 2020

Sanjukta Sunderason’s book ‘Partisan Aesthetics’ delves into the intricate relationship between art and the historical backdrop of war, famine, mass politics, and displacements that characterized late-colonial and postcolonial India. Introducing ‘partisan aesthetics’ as a conceptual frame Sanjukta explores the cultural production during the 1940s Bengal famine, and how art became deeply political through its interactions with left-wing activism. Drawing upon an archive of artists and artist collectives working in Calcutta during this period, Sanjukta Sunderason argues that artists engaged politically not just as observers and organizers, but also through evolving forms of political participation and expression.

The book comprises two sections, each with three and two chapters respectively. The first section, ‘Dialogues and Dissonances,’analyzes the trajectory of the left-wing cultural movement from 1936 to 1956 to draw out the particular modalities that the left took vis-a-vis visual art during the critical transitional decades of decolonization. Chapter one focuses on a series of reviews and essays on the artist Jamini Roy whereas chapter two studies the artists, such as Chittaprosad, committed to the CPI during war, famine and popular resistance in the 1940s. Second section of the book ‘Postcolonial Displacements’ follows the afterlives of the conjectural decade of the 1940s in postcolonial India, and asks how aesthetics in post/colony captured the displacements— social, ideological and epistemic— that marked the transition to independence in 1947 (p.31). Chapter four investigates the question of what happened to the visual rhetorics of left wing radical aesthetics in Nehruvian India, while chapter five focuses on Calcutta as the new postcolonial site.

“Yet, the project in ‘Partisan Aesthetics’ has not been one of (left-wing) nostalgia or celebrations of a postcolonial modern; rather it has been an archival treatment of “irregular histories”.” (p.259)

Partisan aesthetics- Modern art and India’s long decolonization