Contemporary Art in Bombay, 1965-1995

Beth Citron, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation examines contemporary art in India between circa 1965 and 1995, focusing especially on artistic developments in Bombay, the leading artistic, cultural, commercial, and cosmopolitan center of post-colonial and post-partition India, and the main site from which contemporary Indian art reached international art world networks. This study argues that 1965-1995 is a critical and historically distinct, if under-recognized, period in which urban conditions and experience were focal in the development and articulation of Indian cultural identities. Among the achievements and issues framing this period were the foundation of sustainable art world infrastructure (including private galleries for exhibition and sites for criticism and discourse), negotiations between “local” and “international” currents in cultural production, and struggles to locate a place for the professional artist in Indian society.

My dissertation uses case studies of five defining artists to build an historical narrative that is rooted in artistic, urban, intellectual, and discursive conditions in India in this period. The artists are Tyeb Mehta, Akbar Padamsee, Bhupen Khakhar, Sudhir Patwardhan, and Atul Dodiya. Each case study moves between visual analyses of artworks, narrations of specific issues in each artist’s professional life, and developments in the urban and intellectual contexts and art worlds in which each artist was working. While independently, each study focuses on individual creative expressions and commitments, collectively they suggest that over this period these artists articulated — and then challenged — an identity for urban modernist art practice in India. Using object-based visual analyses, archival resources, and interviews, this study is based mostly on primary sources drawn from extensive research in India.

My research demonstrates the need for a new assessment of the discourse and language used to describe contemporary Indian art; this is primarily to prioritize a history for twentieth-century Indian art in which art, artists, and ideas originating in India support the discourse, rather than structures proposed and often superimposed by “Western Modernism” and related theoretical constructs. This dissertation offers a new conceptual framework and a historically contingent, interpretive narrative through which to look at a period of contemporary Indian art in relation to broader post-colonial and art histories.