Modernism without an Avant Garde in India By Mukherji, Parul
Any critical history of modern Indian Art must take into account the key difference between Indian and Euro-American modernism: the distinct absence of an avant-garde in Indian modernism. No Hegelian dialectics or Kantian autonomy impelled Indian modernism along the same historical lines plotted in Western art historiography, nor was there a distinct classical tradition to be disregarded and to start anew from.
India’s distinct origins of modernity stem from the fact that it was under colonial modernity that modernism first made its appearance in India. If the beginnings of modernism in India are traced to the late nineteenth century, Raja Ravi Varma can be considered as India’s first Salon artist, who acquired a mastery over the medium of oil painting and the genre of portraiture. Any neat dichotomy between the colonizer and the colonized becomes blurred when considering the close nexus between the two. It was the Western Orientalists and their investment in disciplines such as Indology, for instance, whose arduous discovery of the past fed the Indian nationalist imagination and its desire to return to the precolonial past.