In this essay I explore the interaction between race and aesthetics in colonial India (1857-1947). In the context of nation building and the Indian independence movement, the Indian art world struggles to articulate conditions for the very possibility of an artist who would be authentically Indian while remaining authentically artistic, a seemingly impossible accomplishment. And yet a chosen few are somehow are able to do just this: cosmopolitan Indian artists, transcending the parochial boundaries of nation, race, ethnicity, and religion as set by tradition, while remaining rooted in something that is nonetheless fundamentally Indian. I focus on three artists from this period, Ravi Varma, Abanindranath Tagore and Amrita Sher-Gil, documenting the vastly different receptions of the public to each of their works and techniques, and exposing the complex network of reasons and emotional attitudes that, in the end, allows for each to be justifiably viewed as a great Indian artist, although the first two do not free themselves from the constraint of using a ‘racialized’ aesthetic lens.

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Aesthetics Commons



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