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Partition and the Historiography of Art in South Asia

This dissertation investigates the impact of the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947 on the development of art, art institutions, and aesthetic discourse in India and Pakistan in the twentieth century. At the core of this study is the history of the Lahore Museum, whose collections of art and archaeology were divided between the emerging nations of India and Pakistan beginning in 1948. My analysis traces the contours of this division of movable art and heritage, against the broader spirit of madness of the period, to bring forth the crisis of dispossession that the Lahore collections endured in response to this unprecedented process of bifurcation. I argue that the fate of the Lahore collections in the twentieth century dramatizes the partition's empirical and epistemological ramifications for art and art writing across South Asia both then and now. It exposes the forms of physical and ideological violence imposed on art and culture in the course of this process of decolonization and nation-building; it elucidates the pivotal role that museums have played in negotiating the ruptures of place, history, and identity concomitant to the experience of partition in South Asia; and, it unravels the dialectics of non-belonging and nationalization that entangle India and Pakistan into the present. I contend, moreover, that the case of the Lahore Museum stands as an allegory for the partition as an unfinished process of cultural fragmentation in South Asia. Methodologically, this dissertation combines extensive archival records, formal analysis of art objects, and histories of archaeology and museum spaces, with debates in Indian historiography and post-colonial criticism to weave a cross-border history of art and museums. It uproots the nationalist logic at the center of prevailing art historiography in South Asia by foregrounding repressed art histories of division, displacement, and dispossession. By writing on and across the Indo-Pakistani border, my analysis further emphasizes the continued ties between archives and museum collections in India and Pakistan, and seeks to intertwine these resources otherwise isolated by virulent national divides. In the process, this dissertation asserts the necessity of the visual arts to any writing of partition history in South Asia, and ultimately exposes how the experience of partition in South Asia has, through either memory or representation, perpetuated a pervasive ethos of division that continues to structure the art history of modernism in India and Pakistan today

Aparna Megan Kumar
University of California, Los Angeles