Monica Juneja (University of Heidelberg)
Tuesday, 16 September 2014, 11.30 AM-01.00 PM
What makes a work of art or literature “offensive”? If, as frequently claimed, there is no such thing as an “offensive image”, why are we forced into taking seriously the notions of images as obscene, blasphemous and violating of sentiments and sensibilities? My lecture examines the issues that have frequently surfaced in controversial discussions about works of art; such arguments are premised on the opposition between “propriety” or “sentiments of communities” on the one hand and “freedom of artistic expression” on the other. The regional focus is on South Asia: the talk zooms into a case study of the heated controversy that erupted over the portrayals of Hindu goddesses as well as of an anthropomorphic map of India as an unclothed female by the modernist painter M.F. Husain. The emergence of modernist art in India was synchronous with the birth of an independent nation state (and at the same time the partition of the subcontinent into different nation states). The nation’s institutionalization of “heritage” accorded to objects that were earlier labelled as “idol” or “cult object” the status of “art”. In standard narratives of modernity, such institutional processes – what Walter Benjamin described as the transformation of cult value to exhibition value – are read as germane to the formation of a secular sphere to which the nation’s art now belonged. My talk examines the terms in which such a transition from the “religious” to the “aesthetic” image was articulated, to argue that they were far too slippery to stabilize the demarcation between the sacral and secular attributes of objects now designated as art. To grapple with the power of images to offend I deploy the Latourian notion of Iconoclash as a cue to uncovering certain structural patterns within the context of image production and spectatorship in South Asia from the emergence of artistic modernism of the mid-20th century to the global circulation of images in contemporary times.
Discussant: Hannah Baader (Kunsthistorisches Institut Florenz)
The public lecture is part of the Summer Academy “Language, Science and Aesthetics – Articulations of Subjectivity and Objectivity in the Modern Middle East, North Africa, South and Southeast Asia”, which takes place from 11 - 19 September 2014 in Beirut.
It is jointly organized by Orient-Institut Beirut (OIB) and Forum Transregionale Studien, Berlin.
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