In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Modern and Contemporary Art of South Asia

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Early Histories
  • Edited Volumes
  • Art Markets, Museums, and Private Collections
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • Prehistories of Modernism
  • 1940–1960
  • After 1990
  • The “Folk” and the “Popular”
  • Methodology and the State of the Field
  • Institutional Histories
  • Diaspora

Art History Modern and Contemporary Art of South Asia
Atreyee Gupta, Tausif Noor
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 April 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 April 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0019


Scholarship on modern and contemporary art has emerged as a significant subfield within the larger field of the art of South Asia, especially since the 1990s. Arguing against earlier historicist readings that presented Europe as the center from which modernism was transmitted to the rest of the world, scholars have critically examined transcontinental artistic encounters and radical aesthetic negotiations in the colony and the post-colony. Moving away from a center-periphery model that inevitably marks modern art in South Asia as merely derivative of its Western counterpart, recent scholarship has presented a number of methodological alternatives appropriate for examining the aesthetic and political imperatives of modern and contemporary art in South Asia on its own terms. Much of this scholarship has paralleled, intersected with, and drawn on the theoretical frames made available by postcolonial and subaltern studies. Thus, although a relatively new arena of inquiry, the methodological sophistication and academic rigor demonstrated by recent scholarship has very rapidly transformed the study of modern and contemporary South Asian art into a subfield with its own vocabulary and lexicon. While significant overlaps exist, the key concerns for the study of modernism, however, differ constitutively from the questions that are central to the study of contemporary art practices. Negotiations between traditional forms and modernist aesthetics, intersections between internationalism and national identity, and questions of authenticity and derivativeness have informed scholarly engagements with the art of the late 19th century and the 20th century. In contrast, globalization and its attendant cultural transformations, accelerated migration and the increased global mobility of both artworks and artists, the rise of new media and the reconfiguration of older aesthetic imperatives, and, in recent years, an alteration in the role of the artist and the audience have emerged as organizing themes for studies on contemporary art. Despite this divergence, the study of modern and contemporary South Asian art, nevertheless, shares a set of theoretical and methodological predilections that give this subfield conceptual coherence. Many of the entries in this article demonstrate that these predilections result from a broader interest in questions of anti-imperialism, marginality, difference, and otherness as articulated through visual representation. This perhaps is inevitable given that the genealogy of this new subfield can be traced to the anticolonial tenor of early-20th-century scholarship on modern South Asian art, citations for which have also been included in this bibliography.

General Overviews

This section lists surveys on modern and contemporary art. Edited Volumes and Early Histories are listed in separate sections. The texts cited here offer overviews on the subject and cover art movements and artists from the 19th century to recent times. Naqvi 1998, Mago 2001, and Bandaranayake and Dharmasiri 2009 offer overviews of modern art in Pakistan, India, and Sri Lanka, respectively. Although not intended as an autobiographical account, the author’s own experience of the mid-20th-century art world as a practicing artist in New Delhi informs Mago 2001, providing a glimpse into the cultural politics of the early post-independence Indian art world. While Ali 2000 and Hassan 1996 primarily focus on modern art in Pakistan, a number of painters who moved to India after the partition of the subcontinent are also included. This approach complements Hashmi and Dalmia 2007, in which the authors use a comparative methodology to examine contemporary artistic developments in India and Pakistan to foreground an interlinked history of art in the subcontinent. Focusing specifically on women artists, Hashmi 2002 and Sen 2002 demonstrate a methodology that is attentive to questions of gender and representation in the history of modern and contemporary art in the subcontinent.

  • Ali, Syed A. Painters of Pakistan. Islamabad, Pakistan: National Book Foundation, 2000.

    Contains a brief overview of painting from Pakistan and Bangladesh (erstwhile East Pakistan), followed by detailed biographies of artists.

  • Bandaranayake, Senake, and Albert Dharmasiri. Sri Lankan Painting in the 20th Century. Colombo: National Trust Sri Lanka, 2009.

    Attentive to the coming of modernism in Sri Lanka, this lavishly illustrated book offers an overview of 20th-century painting. A good resource for a history of the ’43 Group, an art collective central to Sri Lanka’s modernist movement.

  • Hashmi, Salima. Unveiling the Visible: Lives and Works of Women Artists of Pakistan. Islamabad: ActionAid Pakistan, 2002.

    Surveys the work of women artists over the last fifty years and prompts a reassessment of the role of women artists in shaping both modernist art practice and art pedagogy in Pakistan.

  • Hashmi, Salima, and Yashodhara Dalmia. Memory, Metaphor, Mutations: Contemporary Art of India and Pakistan. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2007.

    The incorporation of a number of women artists is a distinctive feature of this book. The authors are also attentive to the appropriation of popular imagery and premodern iconography by contemporary artists.

  • Hassan, Ijaz ul. Painting in Pakistan. Lahore, Pakistan: Ferozsons, 1996.

    Approaches the question of tradition and modernity in Pakistan by mapping the impact of premodern visual forms of the subcontinent on modern and contemporary artistic production.

  • Mago, Pran N. Contemporary Art in India: A Perspective. New Delhi: National Book Trust, 2001.

    The author attempts to rework the fine arts and crafts binary by including a section on contemporary folk arts and crafts. Also discusses the work of modern and contemporary artists who have significantly drawn on craft traditions.

  • Naqvi, Akbar. Image and Identity: Fifty Years of Painting and Sculpture in Pakistan. Karachi, Pakistan: Oxford University Press, 1998.

    The first extensive overview of modern and contemporary art from Pakistan.

  • Sen, Geeti. Feminine Fables: Imaging the Indian Woman in Painting, Photography and Cinema. Ahmedabad, India: Mapin, 2002.

    Attempts to introduce feminism as a viable methodology for study of the modern and contemporary visual culture of India. Utilizes the representation of the female form in painting, photography, print culture, and cinema as well as the self-representation by women artists to examine the transformations in the iconography of Indian womanhood from the 19th century to contemporary times.

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