Drawing on years of archival research, interviews with artists and publishers, and the ethnographic study of their rural consumers, Christopher Pinney traces the intimate connections between the production and consumption of these images and the struggle against colonial rule. The detailed output of individual presses and artists is set against the intensification of the nationalist struggle, the constraints imposed by colonial state censorship, and fifty years of Indian independence. The reader is introduced to artists who trained within colonial art schools, others whose skills reflect their membership of traditional painting castes, and yet others who are self-taught former sign painters. Combining anthropology, political and cultural history, and the study of aesthetic systems, and using many intriguing and unfamiliar images, the book shows that the current predicament of India cannot be understood without taking into account this complex, fascinating, and until now virtually unseen, visual history. Table of Contents.
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Specifically, he focuses on the intersection of printed images and political struggles from the colonial period to present-day India. Chromolithographs, complex color images printed from multiple stone blocks, developed from the basic lithographic technique invented by Alois Senefelder in Munich in and first used in India in Far from a Gutenberg galaxy, South Asia is a region where the visual image has played a powerful role and where the written word has had limited impact in an environment marked by oral tradition and multiple languages.
It is for this reason that this book has significance beyond a history of visual practice. In this way, Pinney presents a profoundly convincing and extremely nuanced case for visual culture as a key element in considering politics and religion in modern India.
The book is divided into eight chapters, with an introduction and epilogue. Hence, the mass production of images of Indian gods and goddesses became a political tool for anticolonial struggles. Chapter 1 explores the aesthetic context in which chromolithographs were produced. Colonial art schools established in the mid-nineteenth century advocated an art practice of single-point perspective.
Founded in , this printing house was established by ex-students of the Calcutta School of Arts, who appropriated Western academic representational strategies and applied them to the depiction of Indian gods to great success. Chapter 3 examines the output of Chitrashala Steam Press, also founded in , whose politically explicit images drew from the localized history of the state of Maharashtra, in eastern India, to forward anticolonial agendas.
Chapter 4 examines the production of the celebrated south Indian artist Ravi Varma — and the press he set up in Varma has become known as the father of Indian chromolithographs, yet Pinney places him alongside other contemporary practitioners to demythologize his iconic status. Other presses are also examined in relation to camera technology and the use of realism in religious prints to political ends.
Chapter 5 examines the activities of the Brijbasi brothers, who began to mass-produce images by artists from the pilgrimage center of Nathdvara in Rajasthan in Chapter 6 studies images in circulation, the use of visual strategies such as allegory, and their intersection with broad political movements such as Cow Protection, the boycott of British goods, certain nationalist leaders, and colonial attempts at control such as the Press Act.
Chapter 7 explores printing production in the second half of the twentieth century in the work of B. Raja reflect a diverse range of public, popular, and folk conventions that combine with local and pan-Indian aesthetics and politics.
Finally, chapter 8 examines the use of Indian printed images in the village community of Bhatisuda. Single-point perspective and other Western representational strategies of realism are based on a mathematical organization of space and are part of, Pinney argues, a numbing and deadening of the sensorium through the separation of the image from the beholder On the other hand, corpothetics is an aesthetic of representing gods in India that mobilizes all the senses.
It involves bodily performance that transforms both the image and the beholder. As certain images are reproduced through time and region, their meanings shift again. It is this fluidity that allowed printed images in India to escape colonial control, as well as what gave them such power and currency.
Corpothetics is part of a kind of visual experience, of the consumption and impact of printed images in India, where images are not simply a reflection of history but a part of its making. This recognition leads to another significant aspect of the book—the possibility of alternative histories through the study of printed images.
A study of chromolithographs offers an alternative narrative to the official textual narratives of Indian nationalism. In this way, visual images offer insight into realm of the political not preserved in official archives. In this book, Pinney has performed the herculean task of beginning to sort through one of the largest, most complex visual archives in South Asia.
While the author does not intend to provide a straightforward chronological progression of publishers, artists, images, and styles, such a history can be pieced together from the rich data provided.
The book is based on a remarkable foundation of archival research and interviews with artists and publishers started in the early s. The prints in this study are not a part of official institutional archives; thus Pinney has had to work largely from images kept by publishing houses or ones gathered by himself or colleagues over time.
The breadth and depth of the analyses, which bring together literature and methodologies from a range of disciplines, is impressive. Using the tools of the art historian, Pinney provides a strong visual analysis of popular images, identifying specific visual strategies and how they are used, given meaning, and transformed through their dissemination beyond their point of origin.
Further, he uses the tools of anthropology, history, and cultural studies to present a nuanced and layered reading of the history of printed images and political struggle. In the process he identifies important conceptual frameworks that far exceed this specific study, and provides a foundation for understanding the role of image in Indian politics today.
Any weaknesses are minor: the history of colonial art schools is simplified; one wonders if the ethnography of contemporary Bhatisuda would have been better placed at the beginning rather than the end; and it is unclear to what extent chromolithographs may be understood outside of politics. It demonstrates the importance of considering visual images as more than mere illustrations of history but rather as sources for new narratives other than those derived from textual sources.
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Books by Christopher Pinney
It traces the connections between the production and consumption of these images and the struggle against colonial rule. The detailed output of individual presses and artists over the decades is set against the intensification of the nationalist struggle and the constraints imposed by colonial state censorship, and a half-century of Indian independence since Many interviews with both artists ans publishers were undertaken for this book. Among the great variety of artists responsible for the almost bewildering, yet totally compelling, panoply of "photos of the gods" in India are those that trained in the colonial art schools, others whose skills reflect their membership of traditional painting castes, and yet others who began their careers as humble self-taught sign painters. These artists and the presses together helped make rather than merely reflect the politics of their day, hence "Photos of the gods" is not a history of the art of chromolithography but reveals how popular visual culture contributed to history in the making in India. Selected pages.
"Photos of the Gods"