This paper examines the installation work of Vivan Sundaram, one of India's foremost contemporary artists, as an aesthetic response to the rapid political and cultural transformations that marked the 1990s. At this time, Sundaram turned definitively from an established body of figurative and representational art, to experiments with site-specific, inter-medial installations. This turn is placed in the context of the rise of cultural majoritarianism and religious fundamentalism in India, and the coincidence of these ideologies with policies of economic liberalization. In its interpretation of works by Sundaram in this period, the paper outlines the centrality, as both form and motif, of the boat. Cited, improvised, and elaborated upon repeatedly, Sundaram's boat-works advance an alternative account of cultural origins that unfolds around incidents of violent rupture and survival. Frequently assembled from found-objects, these archetypal structures are materialized as evidence of a cataclysmic past. This line of interpretation is explored specifically through the assemblage House/boat (1994), which construes the national present in terms of a historical aftermath. While the paper positions House/boat within the artist's sustained experimentation with discourses of memorialization and monumentality as established through nationalist historiography, it emphasizes House/boat's specific address to the nation in the wake of the traumatic events that marked 1992–3; during which the country was convulsed by sectarian clashes following the destruction of a sixteenth-century mosque by Hindu nationalists.
Wreck, Restoration, and the Work of Carrying On: History on Vivan Sundaram's Boat-Works
TANIA ROY IS ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF ENGLISH LITERATURE AT THE NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF SINGAPORE. HER MAIN INTERESTS INVOLVE EXTRAPOLATIONS OF THE FRANKFURT SCHOOL FOR AN ACCOUNT OF ALTERNATIVE MODERNITIES, WITH A SPECIAL REFERENCE TO INDIAN MODERNISM. SHE HAS PUBLISHED PREVIOUSLY ON THE WORK OF VIVAN SUNDARAM, COMMENTING ON HIS “AMRITA – RETAKE,” A SERIES OF DIGITAL PHOTOMONTAGES OF THE MODERNIST ICON AMRITA SHER-GIL.
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Tania Roy; Wreck, Restoration, and the Work of Carrying On: History on Vivan Sundaram's Boat-Works. Cultural Politics 1 November 2009; 5 (3): 359–384. doi: https://doi.org/10.2752/175174309X461129
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