Images of India: Text/Photo/Film

Intermediate—Spring

This seminar addresses colonial and postcolonial representations of India. For centuries, India has been imagined and imaged through encoded idioms that invite critical scrutiny. In recent decades, writers and visual artists from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh have been actively engaged in reinterpreting the British colonial impact on South Asia. Their work presents sensibilities of the colonized in counter-narration to images previously established during the regime of the Raj. Highlighting previously unexposed impressions, such works inevitably supplement, usually challenge, and frequently undermine traditional accounts underwritten by imperialist interests. Colonial and orientalist discourses depicted peoples of the Indian subcontinent both in terms of degradation and in terms of a romance of empire, thereby rationalizing various economic, political, and psychological agendas. The external invention and deployment of the term “Indian” is emblematic of the epoch, with colonial designation presuming to reframe indigenous identity. Postcolonial writers and artists are consequently renegotiating identities. What does it mean to be conceived of as an Indian? What historical claims are implicit in allegories of region and nation? How do such claims inform events taking place today, given the resurgence of Hindu fundamentalism? For this seminar on semiotics and cultural politics, sources include works by prominent South Asian writers, photographers, and filmmakers.