Indian Painting: The Lesser Known Traditions

Date: 7-9 March 2008

Location: Brown Auditorium, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Details: The last few decades have seen a flourishing of outstanding scholarship in the areas of courtly painting such as Mughal, Rajasthani, Pahari and Deccani.  India, however, has an astonishing wealth of diverse painting tradition. These have not been as widely studied as they deserve, but have generally been considered and classified as ‘folk’. Thus they have tended to be neglected by mainstream scholarship. The aim of this Conference is to bring together scholars who have devoted much of their attention to such lesser known traditions. 

These are now beginning to be recognized as of pivotal importance for our understanding of the social setting in which they have evolved and play an important factor in the development of post-Independence Indian painting. The Conference has been convened to bring together original scholarly research into wide areas of ‘lesser known’ tradition of Indian painting. It focuses mainly on the narrative painting of two cultural areas of India: Eastern and Southern India.

The introductory key-note lecture will address the long debated issue of the changes which have affected the ritual-bound visual culture, such as the patua scroll painting and other expression of folk and tribal artistic production, now that these have entered the sphere of  established ‘art’ exhibited in museums and galleries, detached from their traditional context and purpose.

Two contributions will explore the rich heritage of story telling in Bengal,  one discussing in detail 19th century material, and the other presenting works of the late 20th century dealing with contemporary issues such as politics, public health, education etc. A third paper will show how traditional ‘folk’ art subjects have influenced the work of Jamini Roy, one of the most influential 20th century painters.

The South Indian group of papers will consider paintings on paper and cloth, and murals. Paper manuscripts from 17th and 18th century, of the epics and other literary works in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, will be discussed here for the first time. These will be followed by a study of a group of large painted textiles (kalamkaris) from 19th century Andhra. Finally, a 20th century painted scroll from Telangana will offer the opportunity to analyze the relationship between oral and painted narrative.

The section on murals will introduce the paintings on the walls of the Sri Varadarajasvami temple, one of the three most important Vaishnava temples in Southern India, at Kanchipuram. This will be followed by a survey of 18th and 19th century mural painting in Karnataka, discussing both religious and courtly imagery. In conclusion, a new interpretation of the famous Ramayana murals in the Mattancheri Palace at Kochi will highlight the perception of kingship and authority in 16th century Kerala.


Keynote speaker: Professor Jyotindra Jain, JNU. 


A volume of proceedings is planned which will include the papers presented at the Conference. Further essays on other areas of the subcontinent from scholars who were unable to be present will also be included in this volume. Conference opening Friday March 7, 2008 cultural program starting 7.00 p.m. Conference starts 10.00 a.m. March 8, 2008 and 1.00 p.m March 9, 2008.


Registration fee $25 per person. Online registration:


Submitted by: Vatsa Kumar, Samskriti Houston

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