In July 2001, Jangarh Singh Shyam, the 39-year-old Pardhan-Gond artist from Patangarh village in Madhya Pradesh, took his own life inside a museum in Japan. This incident, far from being isolated, is in fact resonant of a whole century of art historical experiences of the Indian nation. This book explores the phenomenon of Jangarh and his art through a multi-sided art-historical investigation questioning the whole premise of art practice in India through the last two centuries and the making of its modern identity. As was said of Van Gogh by Antoine Artaud: ‘an artist suicided by society,’ the book probes the elements that could have possibly ‘suicided’ Jangarh, the artist. The clues are embedded in art history. Many details in the story of Jangarh, like his native village or workplace at Bhopal, lead towards strong and surprising links to some of the major figures and movements that shaped the modern Indian artistic and cultural milieu, forming an intricate web.
Jangarh Singh Shyam has found in Amit Dutta an ideal chronicler of the tortuous path the tragic Gond artist’s brief life took. Dutta locates Jangarh’s particular predicament within the wider historiographic framework, the uneven relationship between centre and periphery, between the West and the Rest, and between the elite and the underprivileged within global modernism — the concept of the periphery is not one of geography but of exclusion and inclusion. In the global arena, all Indian and other non-western artists suffer from a ‘time lag’, because their work is set against the ‘originary’ discourse of western modernism. Externally, this hegemonic teleology of the western canon has been central to the anxiety of non-western modernism, and Indian modernism in particular. Internally, the rise of ‘modern’ Indian artists with their elevated social status consigned the traditional, popular, folk and tribal artist, the subaltern groups as it were, to the margins of Indian art -- PARTHA MITTER
Partha Mitter is Emeritus Professor of Art History at the University of Sussex, Member of Wolfson College, Oxford and Honorary Fellow, Victoria & Albert Museum, London. His books include Much Maligned Monsters: A History of European Reactions to Indian Art (1977), Art and Nationalism in Colonial India, 1850-1922 (1994), Indian Art 2001 and The Triumph of Modernism: India’s Artists and the Avant-garde 1922-1947 (2007).