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Lecture by Parul Mukherji (New Delhi), "Is Post-Darshan Aesthetics Possible?"

Oct 30, 2018 04:00 pm to 06:00 pm

"Is Post-Darshan Aesthetics Possible? Masquerades and Masks in Contemporary Art Photography"

Culture and photography in India have converged around the concept of darshan, first theorized by the art historian Diana Eck. She proposes Indian visuality based on a model of a religious exchange of gaze between a devotee and a sacred idol. The term darshan has become of keyword to understand modern Indian aesthetics in photography and cinema while the traditional Sanskrit texts on art and aesthetics propose a different epistemology that converges around sadrsya (resemblance) and satya (verisimilitude). Judith Gutman, an anthropologist, appears to extend this notion to Indian photography in general in her book "Through Indian Eyes". While the visual anthropologist, Chris Pinney, has contested any simplistic ascription of ethnicity to photography, religion and anti-realism have played a key role in foregrounding cultural difference in Indian photography.    I would look at contemporary Indian artists like N. Pushpamala and Gauri Gill who have frontally engaged with rural India. A body of their works is examined to explore the possibility of breaking out of the darshan-oriented framework via revisiting the emic terminology of visual representation available in Sanksrit texts on Silpasastra. Here Darshan aesthetics is also a short hand for a particular visual theory that draws from anthropology and its engagement with cultural difference. So the larger question is whether a full break with such a theory is possible in order to envision a postcolonial aesthetics for contemporary art and cultural practices.

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