Demands and Dilemmas of Durga Puja ‘Art’

In view of the transformed profile of the Durga Pujas as one of contemporary Kolkata’s biggest public art events, this Golden Jubilee Lecture critically interrogates the categories of ‘art’ and ‘artist’ in this field, considering both the compulsions and the difficulties of their insertion into this domain of public festivity and mass viewership.

To what extent does the frame of the ‘aesthetic’ enable the transformation of the ephemeral ritual icon into a ‘work of art’? How effectively can it mediate the commercial publicities, promotions and competitions that have invaded the current economy of the Pujas? How does ‘art’ provide a special form of branding of the contemporary festival? What specific kinds of identities of ‘artists’ and ‘designers’ has the festival nurtured in recent years? At the same time, what are the inbuilt constraints of the field that keeps destabilizing the name and claims of ‘art’? How do the Pujas turn our gaze on the many less-elect forms of artistic livelihoods within and outside the city, alerting us to the ever-slipping lines of distinction between the ‘artist’ and the ‘artisan’ in such domains of work? And, what kinds of worlds of the ‘vernacular modern’ lie waiting to be analyzed here?

The lecture brings these many questions to bear around a study of a few careers of Durga Puja designers of the 2000s and the specific variants of ‘art’ or ‘theme’ Pujas (a unique local nomenclature) that they have brought into the field.

Tapati Guha-Thakurta is Director and Professor in History at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta. She has authored The Making of a New 'Indian' Art: Artists, Aesthetics and Nationalism in Bengal and Monuments, Objects, Histories: Institutions of Art in Colonial and Postcolonial India. She is currently completing her book, In the Name of the Goddess: The Durga Pujas of Contemporary Kolkata. 

Date & Time: 25 July 2013, 6pm
Venue: CSDS Seminar Hall