Kajri Jain

Professor, Department of Visual Studies, UTM & History of Art, UTSG
Centre for South Asian Studies at the Asian Institute

Location

CCT 3053, UTM/SS6030A, Sidney Smith Hall, UTSG



Biography

Professor Jain is interested in how the efficacies, affects, and values associated with images arise not only from what goes on within the picture-frame but also from the production, circulation, and deployments of images as material objects. She therefore finds it useful to bring ethnographic sensibilities and methods to the study of images. Her work on popular images in modern and contemporary India encompasses the bazaar icons known as “calendar art;” monumental statues; theme parks; and representations of “nature” in temples, gardens, zoos, and popular cinema. It has largely focused on a vernacular business ethos where religion has been the primary site for adopting new media and expressive techniques.

The unfinished business between images, religion, politics, and commerce troubles the legacies of European Romanticism and secular modernism that underpin much of our thinking about the aesthetic. So while Prof. Jain’s teaching is often based on South Asian materials, her courses take a postcolonial/decolonizing and transcultural approach to interrogating the disciplinary assumptions of art history, cinema studies, and visual studies. These critical perspectives also inform her writing on questions of method in art history, and on contemporary art in India and elsewhere. For instance, a recent strand in her work proceeds from the sensorium of caste and untouchability to trouble the universality of vision as the hegemonic sense, and the attendant celebration of touch and the haptic.

Prof. Jain’s current book project, tentatively titled Nature in the Time of the Gods, is intended as the third in a trilogy of monographs about contemporary Indian images. It asks what vernacular images and spaces in India might tell us about how ideas of nature are mobilized— or come to grief— in the post-reform Indian public sphere. What can these sites tell us about aesthetic or moral-ethical values that sit in tension with modern artistic traditions predicated on our separation from nature and the sublimation of the sacred into art? What happens to nature in an expressive context where religious images are still efficacious, and where Romanticism arrived with colonialism rather than responding directly to the Industrial Revolution?

Cross-Appointments

Cinema Studies Institute
Department for the Study of Religion

Research Interests

Image-cultures in modern India
Postcolonial/decolonizing approaches to aesthetics and politics
Religion and media
Conceptions and representations of “nature” in South Asia

Education

PhD, University of Sydney, Art History and Theory
MA, University of Sydney, Art History and Theory
PEP, National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, Visual Communication

Selected Publications

Books

In progress: Nature in the Time of the Gods.

Gods in the Time of Democracy, Durham: Duke University Press, 2021.

Gods in the Bazaar, Durham: Duke University Press, 2007.

Articles and Chapters

In Press

Keyword entry on “Bazaar” in Bioscope: South Asian Screen Studies, forthcoming 2021.

In Preparation

  • Darshan: Vision as Touch and the Stakes of Immediacy,” in Concepts: A Travelogue, ed. Bernd Herzogenrath, Bloomsbury.
  • “Art History and Unevenness,” in The Routledge Companion to Decolonizing Art History, ed. Tatiana Flores and Florencia San Martin, Routledge.
  • “Ambedkar as Icon: Space, Touch, Presence, Thought,” in volume of selected contributions to the Ambedkar Lectures series at Columbia University, ed. Anupama Rao, Columbia University Press.
  • “In Which Contemporary Indian Iconopraxis Devours Some Sacred Cows of Art History,” in How Secular Is Art? On The Art Of Art History In South Asia, Tapati Guha Thakurta and Vazira Zamindar, Cambridge University Press.

“The Statue,” in Figures of the Political, ed. Ravinder Kaur and Nayanika Mukherjee, Penguin Random House India.

Published

  • “Go Away Closer: Photography, Intermediality, Unevenness,” in Capitalism and the Camera, ed. Kevin Coleman and Daniel James, New York: Verso, 2021, pp. 74-97.
  • Response to questionnaire on “Decolonizing Art History,” Art History, Volume 43, Issue 1, 2020, pp. 28-30.
  • Partition as Partage,”Third Text (special issue To Draw the Line: Partitions, Dissonance, Art: A Case for South Asia, ed. Natasha Eaton and Alice Correia), 145-146, March-May 2017, pp. 187-203.
  • “Tales from the Concrete Cave: Delhi’s Birla Temple and the Genealogies of Urban Nature in India”, Places of Nature in Ecologies of Urbanism, ed. Anne Rademacher and K. Sivaramakrishnan, Hong Kong: University of Hong Kong Press, 2017, pp. 108-136.
  • Gods in the Time of Automobility”, Current Anthropology(special issue on New Media, New Publics? Maria José de Abreu, Carlo Caduff, and Charles Hirschkind), Volume 58, Supplement 15, 2017, pp. S13-S26.
  • ‘Whose Emergency?’ in Art History and Emergency: Crises in the Visual Arts and Humanities (Clark Studies in the Visual Arts), Williamstown, Massachusetts: Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016, pp. 12-22.
  • “Monuments, Landscapes and Romance in Indian Popular Imagery”, in Visual Homes, Image Worlds: Essays from Tasveer Ghar, ed. Sumathi Ramaswamy and Christiane Brosius, New Delhi: Yoda Press, 2015, pp. 87-97.
  • “The Handbag That Exploded: Mayawati’s Monuments and the Aesthetics of Democracy in Post-Reform India”, in Tapati Guha Thakurta, Partha Chatterjee and Bodhisattva Kar (eds.), New Cultural Histories of India, Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2014, pp. 139-179.
  • “Pause”, in Here Art Grows on Trees: Simryn Gill, Catherine de Zegher, Australia Council for the Arts in association with MER Paper Kunsthalle, Gent, Belgium, 2013, pp. 163-176.
  • “Mass-Reproduction and the Art of the Bazaar”, Cambridge Companion to Modern Indian Culture, ed. Vasudha Dalmia and Rashmi Sadana, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012, pp. 184-205.

Public Engagements

Courses

Visual Culture and Colonialism
Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art and Visual Culture
The Nature of Landscape
Re: Vision: Comparative Histories of the Senses
Animal Images
The Recalcitrant Icon
The Time of Art History
The Visual Culture of the Automobile
Bollywood in Context



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