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Diverse Registers Of Meaning

Nuzhat Kazmi

Edited by Monica Juneja By Simone Wille Series
Routledge, New Delhi, 2015, pp. 128, Rs. 1495.00


The author accepts as a logical base Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan to read the genesis of modern art in the Indian subcontinent, in the book under review. The neat narrative selectively picks up threads from art history to base its arguments for Pakistani modern art, with an obvious objective to justify the basis of the creation of the nation of Pakistan. Modernity as broadly projected in western art historical scholarship is indeed a phenomenon that has happened in the East in small doses till the native intelligentsia found European modernism and then gradually adapted itself to it. However, the current emerging historical perspective would be inclined to see that the colonized state of the subcontinent had nothing to do with its discovery of or absence of its modernist artistic vocabulary. Modernist language had reached the Indian intelligentsia well before it was decolonized. To read into the developments in art in two young nations of India and Pakistan as adjuncts to the two-nation theory is the basic problem with the book; that it is a convenient category to sustain in order to maintain that there is something that is Muslim South Asian art and to separate it from an identity which would logically be more geospecific, culturally defined by a continued historical narrative of shared traditions, both visual and textual, linguistic and literary, which percolates into visual artistic practices in the Indian subcontinent. Scholars on Pakistani modern art as this book indicates, who do not necessarily come from Pakistan, may feel the need to live up to the two-nation theory and continue to see art as of Muslim sensibility or otherwise. Some may see great truth in this account but in the end, it is to ignore the greater reality, which is well articulated in the term Ganga-Jamuna tehzeeb, a syncretic culture. The book, demonstrates total reliance for analysis on an immensely subjective selection of four artists: Shakir Ali, Zahoor ul Akhlaq, Rashid Rana, and Beate Terfloth. Interestingly Iftikhar Dadi in his afterword explains, ‘the inclusion of Terfloth in this study is worth noting, not simply due to the strength of her practice and the salience of her work with reference to Zahoor, but also to serve as a reminder that rather than policing citizenship papers, histories of Pakistani art must attend to the importance of transnational exchanges in fostering intellectual and artistic developments. Modern and contemporary art in Pakistan ...

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