• The journey in my head: cosmopolitanism and Indian male self-portraiture in 20th century India: Umrao Singh Sher-Gil, Bhupen Khakhar, Ragubhir Singh.

Jhaveri, Shanay, 2016, Thesis, The journey in my head: cosmopolitanism and Indian male self-portraiture in 20th century India: Umrao Singh Sher-Gil, Bhupen Khakhar, Ragubhir Singh. PhD thesis, Royal College of Art.

Abstract or Description:

Between 1890 and 1948, Umrao Singh Sher-Gil (1870–1954) a philosopher, Sanskritist, Persianist and father of India’s greatest modernist painter Amrita Sher-Gil, produced a remarkable body of photographic self-portraits. The photographs, usually very small were always of himself in aristocratic-bourgeois settings, which ranged from Paris, Budapest, Simla and Lahore. These images prove to be the starting point for my own research into self-portraiture and a re-appraisal of the term ‘cosmopolitanism’. Central to my re-figuring of ‘cosmopolitanism’ is a refutation of the Kantian ideal of the self-identical, self-sufficient, immune and transcendental subject. I intend to map out how the term has been re-claimed and recalibrated by myriad postcolonial academics and scholars in contemporary critical and cultural theory. My own participation in the on-going re-evaluation of ‘cosmopolitanism’ is done through the detailed study of the lives and works of my three case studies: Sher-Gil, the painter Bhupen Khakhar (1934- 2003), and photographer Raghubir Singh (1942–1999). In my discussion of their respective oeuvres, place and location are foregrounded, taking into account physical movement, but more crucially modes of affiliation and belonging.

In my research, a rethinking of ‘cosmopolitanism’ rests on the assertion that a ‘cosmopolitan self’ evolves from correspondences between disparate parties and places. Community, friendship, networks of affiliation and interpersonal exchange are critical to study and acknowledge. The other fundamental concern of this thesis is an emphasis on emotion, and emotional connections to spaces. Geography can and should be read as being populated by emotions, and the narratives of lives can be told through the emotional connections to certain places and spaces. With this research I do not wish to establish a definition or a model of a South Asian cosmopolitan or cosmopolitanism, which is a dangerous and limiting gesture. With the aid of Sher-Gil, Khakhar and Singh I hope to make apparent that for a cosmopolitan sensibility to be formed, physical travel, affluence, and privilege are not necessities. Neither is relinquishing an attachment to place or, inversely, claiming multiple attachments to places, but rather advocating for a recognition of the connection between space and emotion, and how the affects produced from these lived conditions and experiences are manifested, materialised and should be appreciated. Another aspect of this research project is an engagement with a mode of heuristic inquiry, where there is an emphasis on the researcher’s internal frame of reference, the researchers present. Thus, the temporal frame of the thesis produced by my selection of case studies, spans from India’s transition as a colony to an independent nation, but continuing on consciously to my own locatedness, at a moment when it is emerging as a global capitalist power led by a Hindu nationalist government. All of which prompts a continued consideration of the tension between nationalism and cosmopolitanism. It begs the question, how has and can one continue to arbitrate between local attachments and the world at large?

Qualification Name: PhD
Subjects: Creative Arts and Design > W100 Fine Art
Creative Arts and Design > W100 Fine Art > W120 Painting
Date Deposited: 28 Jun 2016 18:48
Last Modified: 09 Nov 2018 15:45
URI: https://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/1808
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