Multiple Trajectories of the Modern
Monica Juneja
THE TRIUMPH OF MODERNISM: INDIA'S ARTISTS AND THE AVANT-GARDE, 1922-1947 by Partha Mitter Reaktion Books, 2008, 272 pp., £ 22.50
October 2008, volume 32, No 10

The associations which some years back invariably linked the idea of modernism to Baudelaire’s flâneur or Picasso’s demoiselles have today begun to fade, confronted as they are by critical interventions from across the globe challenging the certitudes of universalizing narratives. Accounts of non-European experiments with modernist idioms strive to create a space for artistic practices incompatible with the teleologies of dominant accounts of modernism, and in the process undermine its spatial model of metropolitan centres and their peripheries. A linear narrative advancing from abstract expressionism to cubism and conceptual art is now being increasingly supplanted by writings that set out to chart the multiple trajectories of the modern, highlighting their differences and discrepancies or ‘disalignments’1 from the western mainstream. Partha Mitter situates his new book within this historiographic current, one that proposes ways of ‘empowering non-Western modernisms’ by recuperating the agency of their practitioners.

At the same time the path he chalks out to approach his subject promises a refreshing change from existing post-orientalist histories. Sensitivity to difference has often meant valorizing it to the extent of implicitly reinscribing cultures within nationalist frames, even while purposefully seeking to secure the fences against forms of indigenist revivals.

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