SOAS University of London

Department of the History of Art and Archaeology, School of Arts

Traditional Art and Modern South Asia

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2017/2018
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Term 2

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

Key objectives:
  • To outline the main themes in the development of the visual arts in South Asia, from c. 1780 to the present.
  • To examine the production and use of the visual arts in their social, political and religious contexts in South Asia.
  • To evaluate the use of critical terms in art history (e.g. tradition, ritual, performance, modernity, commodity) with reference to the visual arts of South Asia.
On successful completion of the course, you will be able to:
  • Outline the main trends in the development of the visual arts of South Asia from c. 1780 to the present.
  • Evaluate the approaches of art historians and anthropologists to the visual arts and material culture of South Asia.
  • Identify and analyse aspects of South Asian visual arts and material culture using appropriate vocabulary.

Scope and syllabus

This course examines aspects of the visual arts of South Asia in the modern period from the late 18th century to the present. A central theme is the adaptation of traditional visual arts and material culture to the new patrons, markets, media and materials introduced to South Asia as a result of the colonial encounter and postcolonial modernity. Case studies will be drawn from east, west and southern India, but students will be encouraged to explore material from other parts of South Asia. The issues addressed include: narrative, painting and performance; Indian painting and colonial patrons; traditional art as commodity; mass reproduction and the printed image; social space and vernacular architecture; public architecture and colonialism; religion, ritual and the ephemeral arts; the foundations of Modern Indian art.

Classroom discussion will be complemented by study-visits to London museum collections. This course will appeal to students interested in the traditional arts of other regions of Asia and Africa in the modern period, and to students in Anthropology and Study of Religions interested in the ethnography and religions of South Asia.

Method of assessment

Assessment will be by means of coursework (40%) and a written examination (60%). The coursework consists of two essays (2000 words each)(20% + 20%).

Suggested reading

Core Reading
  • Archer, Mildred. Company Paintings: Indian Paintings of the British Period. London and Ahmedabad: Victoria & Albert Museum and Mapin Publishing Pvt. Ltd., 1992.
  • Guha-Thakurta, Tapati. The Making of a New 'Indian' Art: Artists, Aesthetics and Nationalism in Bengal c.1850-1920. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
  • Jain, Jyotindra (ed.) Picture Showmen: Insights into the Narrative Tradition in Indian Art. Mumbai: Marg Publications, 1998.
  • Metcalf, Thomas. An Imperial Vision: Indian Architecture and Britain's Raj. London: Faber & Faber, 1989.
  • Mitter, Partha. Art and Nationalism in Colonial India 1850-1922. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
  • Pinney, Christopher. ‘Photos of the Gods’: The Printed Image and Political Struggle in India. London: Reaktion, 2004.

Online course outline - Term 2.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules