The Politics of Oil: Contemporary Indian Art and the War in Iraq
Lecture-cum-visual presentation by Saloni Mathur, UCLA
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
12:00 PM - 2:00 PM
11377 Bunche Hall
This paper juxtaposes several different uses and politics of “oil” -- as a painterly medium, a global commodity, and a discourse of imperial power – in part by examining the history of oil painting in India as part of the structures and operations of British imperialism in the subcontinent. The investigation proceeds through an analysis of the work of contemporary Indian artist, Vivan Sundaram, in particular his series of paintings in engine oil and charcoal executed during the first Gulf War. Significantly, this body of work by Sundaram, first exhibited in India in 1991 but never shown in Europe and America, was partly inspired by a visit to Iraq two years earlier, where the artist participated in the Second International Art Exhibition in Baghdad and won (ironically) one of the five Saddam Hussein gold medals awarded at the time. But Sundaram also traveled during this 1989 trip to a number of historical and archaeological sites that have since been either looted or destroyed, and effectively emptied of their civilizational wealth. The work he produced at the time has, Saloni Mathur argues, a new relevance in our post-Sept 11 cultural environment and the current American occupation in Iraq, especially in relation to the large-scale destruction of ancient cultural property that the country has tragically seen. This presentation will draw on Sundaram’s work to consider this broader set of issues concerning the particularities of oil, western militarism, and the damage to cultural property that mark today unprecedented crises on a world scale.
Saloni Mathur is Assistant Professor at the Department of Art History, UCLA. Her areas of interest include the visual cultures of South Asia and the South Asian diaspora, colonial studies and postcolonial criticism, the relationship between modern ethnography and the artistic avante-garde, museum studies, and feminist criticism. She has published in such interdisciplinary sites as Cultural Anthropology, American Anthropologist, Third Text, Parachute, and The Art Journal, and has recently completed a book titled India by Design: Colonial History and Cultural Display (forthcoming with the University of California Press, 2007).
Image credit: Vivan Sundaram, "Death of an Akkadian King" (engine oil and charcoal), 1990-91.
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Sponsor(s): Center for India and South Asia