The West tends to be proprietorial about Modernism, treating it as a Euro-American invention copied, in inferior versions, by the rest of the world. But more and more this view has come to look parochial and wrong. In recent years historians have been studying the reality of multiple (sometimes referred to as alternative) modernisms that developed in Africa, Asia and South America parallel with, or sometimes in advance of, what was happening in Europe.

This is probably one of the most important points to hit when discussing non-Western contemporary/modern art. Discussions about South Asian art too frequently fetishize the ancient (temple complexes! Buddha statues! Ashokan propaganda!) and often implicate a sense of “well, that was their golden age — everything that came after is less good than the pinnacle of South Asian art and architecture.” Even worse than that is the very strong notion that certain circles hold that many non-Western modern/contemporary movements are bland copies of existent Western art movements, ignoring the fact that many of these non-Western movements started parallel to or independent of the West.

I’m not saying that Western art had no impact on South Asian art — to do so would be revisionist history at its finest — but am rather indicating that I’d like to see a lot less fetishization of the “good old days” and outright dismissal of modern non-Western art as unoriginal. Instead, I’d love to see a lot more talk about how non-Western 20th century artists negotiated both their historical backgrounds and developing postcolonial identities through new and exciting mediums, sometimes introduced and influenced by the ubiquitous West, and how 21st century artists continue (or don’t continue!) their legacy. 

—V

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