The Arts of India: New Perspectives

The Arts of India: New Perspectives

Unknown Artist, Presented to Queen Victoria through Edward VII, when Prince of Wales, during his tour of India in 1875-76 by Ishwari Prasad Narayan Singh, Maharaja of Benares, c.1875. Composite Photograph, Royal Collection Trust

The Arts of India: New Perspectives Lecture Series

TAASA Monday Night Zoom Lectures 5.30 – 6.30pm

This year’s series of Zoom lectures offers fresh perspectives on the Arts of India, presented by specialists across the arts. Topics have been chosen with variety in mind to ensure the series offers a stimulating mix of the familiar and the not-so-familiar. Details of each lecture are listed below. The first lecture presents early classical sculptures from Gandhara that narrate through images major events in the life of the Buddha. The second lecture presents colourful two-dimensional images of Jain sacred sites visited by pilgrims. The third lecture we move into the 20th century, with a study of Princess Gayatri Devi, third wife of the Maharaja of Jaipur who was famous as the icon who redefined Indian fashion. The fourth lecture delves further into the world of Maharajas with examples of their use of painted photography, a specifically Indian cultural phenomenon. The final lecture will present an overview of contemporary Indian art that concerns itself with some of the challenging issues of our times.


Cost: Members $15; Non-members $25
Special price for the whole series: Members $60; Non-Members $85
Book for single lecture or whole series. Payment in advance essential. No refunds.

Lecture 1

The Life of the Buddha through Gandharan Art

Presented by Mark Allon

Monday, 4 March 2024

The Buddhist artistic heritage of ancient Gandhara in the northwest of the Indian subcontinent is a particularly rich and important one. The artists of Gandhara drew on the artistic traditions of the Indian, Mediterranean, and Iranian worlds to create unique responses to their Buddhist faith. This lecture will explore the ways in which Gandharan artists, apart from generating some of the first iconic images of the Buddha, expressed their faith and that of their patrons through the depiction of events in the Buddha’s life. The possible function of this narrative art and its link with Buddhist literature will also be discussed.

Mark Allon is Associate Professor of South Asian Buddhist Studies in the Discipline of Asian Studies at the University of Sydney. His first degree was in fine art, majoring in sculpture, drawing and printmaking at Alexander Mackie College. He then completed a BA Honours (Asian Studies) at the Australian National University and a PhD in Buddhist Studies at the University of Cambridge. Since 2006 he has taught the ancient languages of India (Sanskrit, Pali and Gandhari), and Buddhist and Indian studies at the University of Sydney. His current research projects concern the study and publication of the recently discovered Gandhari Buddhist manuscripts from Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Lecture 2

Jain Pilgrimage Art: New Perspectives

Presented by Lucie Folan

Monday, 8 April 2024

Followers of India’s Jain religion recognise numerous sacred sites (tirtha) and have a long history of temple-building and pilgrimage. Since the 15th century, Jains have engaged artists to create two-dimensional images of sacred sites that serve as manifestations or avatars of the places depicted. Known as tirtha pata, these works of art vary in size and format. Some are small images symbolising monuments and narratives, while others present immersive cartographic views that allow Jains to communally experience mental pilgrimages. This lecture will examine some of the extraordinary tirtha pata made between the 15th and 20th centuries, and the fascinating cultural and historical information they hold.

Lucie Folan is a PhD candidate at the Australian National University writing on the history of Jain sacred-site images. She has worked as a curator of Asian art at the National Gallery of Australia and was instrumental in the establishment of the institution’s Asian art provenance project.

Lecture 3

Princess Gayatri Devi: Abiding Symbol of an Age Gone

Presented by Christina Sumner

Monday, 6 May 2024

Born into privilege in 1919, Maharaj Kumari Gayatri Devi lived a charmed and extraordinary life that spanned the radical social and political changes of 20th century India. Renowned for her beauty from babyhood, she married the Maharaja of Jaipur for love as his third wife. The position of women in Indian society, hidebound by tradition for centuries, changed dramatically in the 20th century, including the way they dressed. Gayatri Devi’s life paralleled this evolution in both reflecting and courteously challenging the traditions inherent in Rajput royalty, embracing and modelling the freedoms that her position and contemporaneity made possible, in the clothes she wore and the social changes she was committed to. As Maharani of Jaipur, Gayatri Devi brought the women of Jaipur out of purdah and founded a school for girls. She became an Indian fashion icon and a member of parliament, and she suffered great tragedy with dignity and characteristic grace.

Christina Sumner OAM was principal curator design and society at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, where she worked with the decorative arts and design collections for 28 years. Her research interests span the traditional textiles and cultures of India, Central Asia and Southeast Asia and she has curated exhibitions and written and lectured widely on the arts of the Asian region.

Lecture 4

Maharaja Portraits and Painted Photography: Towards an Aesthetics of Dissonance

Presented by Sushma Griffin

Monday, 3 June 2024

Painted photography has long been considered specifically an Indian cultural phenomenon. Focusing on a few major examples such as the painted portrait of the Maharaja of Jaipur Sawai Ram Singh II (c.1875), this talk will explore how Indian rulers mobilised the conventions of Indian miniature painting and colonial photography, using colour and texture to highlight their singular iconography and indigenous significations of leadership, while reinscribing their identity as particular, recognisable and modern through photographic formats. Conversely, it will discuss the Maharaja of Banaras, Ishwari Prasad Narayan Singh’s attempts at reimagining Queen Victoria’s Leaves from the Journal of our Life in the Highlands from 1848 to 1861 (c. 1875) in the Indian vernacular.

Sushma Griffin is a historian and theorist of modern and contemporary art. Her areas of expertise include 19th and 20th-century photography and film of the Global South, specifically South and Southeast Asia, with an emphasis on modernism and its contemporary heirs. She received her doctorate in art history from the University of Queensland. Presently, she is a Postdoctoral Fellow (2023-24) at the Yale University Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art in London. Her publications include a book chapter in Nazar: Vision, Belief, and Perception in Islamic Cultures (Brill, 2021) and articles in Artlines and The Asian Arts Society of Australia Review.

Lecture 5

Art and Politics in India c. 1980-2010

Presented by Chaitanya Sambrani

Monday, 1 July 2024

This lecture will be an overview of contemporary art in India, in the context of fundamentalism and globalisation. The roles of tradition, marginality and politics as artists’ concerns within a diverse and dynamic culture will be presented through the work of significant artists who are active locally and globally. While considering the role of art markets and international recognition, the lecture will highlight debates around belonging, diversity and difference in an increasingly polarised political environment.

Dr Chaitanya Sambrani is an Associate Professor in the Centre for Art History and Art Theory, and Convenor for Higher Degrees by Research, School of Art and Design, in the ANU College of Arts and Sciences. Major curatorial projects include Edge of Desire: Recent Art in India (shown at museums in Australia, USA, Mexico and India over 2004-07). He is the author, amongst many publications, of the definitive book At Home in the World: the Art and Life of Gulammohammed Sheikh (2019).


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