Cultures and Arts of India


The Indian subcontinent hosts numerous cultures grounded in Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic, secular, and unassimilated traditions. This multifaceted seminar addresses the diverse cultural traditions of India through literature and the visual arts. Beginning with core mythologies and iconography, we explore modes of Indian thought and expression found in devotional texts, court poetry, popular narratives, Hindu temple sculpture, and Mughul miniature painting. Artistic production under Mughal and British imperial rule frames our study of the formation of Indian identities. We move on to explore contemporary Indian fiction and poetry in relation to modern painting, photography, and film. We interpret aesthetic, religious, economic, and political aspects of South Asian arts in light of postcolonial theories of production and consumption. Sectarian movements and caste hierarchies are analyzed in relation to systems of patronage. Our inquiries address these questions: How do arts of the 21st century both reflect and transform traditional myths and images? What social agendas have led to conventional distinctions between “classical” and “folk” arts, and why are such definitions now widely rejected? Why does the Indian canon include cuisine and body decoration among classical art forms? Which arts historically have been available to women? How have South Asian artists “written back” to orientalist representations?