This project aims to refine the theoretical paradigms of my doctoral research and enhance its interdisciplinary thrust through the collective research enterprise at the Global Asia cluster, IIAS, Leiden. My doctoral thesis focuses on the princely state of Baroda in colonial India and its role as a centre of modernism and nationalism, revealed through its art and craft projects. Positioned as an art historical enquiry, it examines Sayajirao Gaekwad III of Baroda in the roles of a private collector, head of state and a nationalist ideologue. It consolidates Gaekwad’s collecting practice, institutional projects and indigenous crafts in the formulation of a modern national art on the international stage of exhibitions. At the first level, it draws on archival correspondence to illuminate key themes: art and craft commissions; indigenization of European genres; relocation of indigenous crafts to industrialised contexts of production; and Baroda’s participation at exhibitions. At the second level, the project interprets the archive as an instance of alternative modernity and colonial nationalism. The work demonstrates Baroda’s acceptance and reshaping of European and indigenous tropes to formulate an indigenous and alternative modernity. Now, the project merits a revisit to search for a possible reconfiguration of Asian art and craft materials, practices and ideas to make a case for a provincial-colonial centre which may have functioned as an arbiter of pan-Asianism in a global context.
I wish to focus on the Maharaja of Baroda’s loans to global exhibitions as a means to circulate the region’s reconfigured art and craft genres and thereby create taste and value in their favour. Simultaneously, I locate Baroda’s example in a larger Asian context of circulation of ideas and materials. My search for Baroda’s Asian connection is based on archival finds which demonstrate firm intra-Asian connections: Sayajirao’s trip to Japan (1894), a marked inclusion of South East Asian art in the Baroda Museum (1911) and the commissioning of the Bengal stalwart, Nandalal Bose (1936). These episodes gesture towards Sayajirao’s awareness of intra-Asian exchanges to formulate ideas of nationalism and pan-Asianism. Thus the central question of my project is: Do Baroda’s reconfigured art and craft experiments represent a Baroda/Indian/Asian modernism at international exhibitions? This question addresses the issue of inter-calibration of the provincial, regional, national and Asian.
In summary, this post-doctoral study proposes to refine Baroda’s case-study as an illustration of a distinctive national modernity while also underlining its interconnectedness with other modernities, which may be metropolitan and peripheral. The study also focuses on Baroda’s projection of its new modernism through a well-negotiated loans’ inventory which constituted materials from craftsmen, high artists and polytechnics to reflect “cosmopolitanism” which was amply courted in the making of a new Asian art and identity.
I am also keen to contribute to the Institute’s intellectual life by sharing my archival research in Baroda and New Delhi; I especially wish to focus on the scope to mobilize princely India’s archives to deepen our understanding of South Asia’ role in shaping the global contours of collecting, museums and exhibitions.