About Politics of “Great Men”, Nineteenth Century Painting in India and the Hidden Power of Image Rights – 5in10 with Niharika Dinkar
Niharika Dinkar is Associate Professor of Art History and Visual Culture at Boise State University. She studied at the National Museum in New Delhi before receiving her PhD in Art History, Theory and Criticism from the State University of New York at Stony Brook (SUNY).
Her research interests revolve around South Asian visual culture and modernity, postcolonial visual politics as well as gender and performance studies. For the year 2013-2014, Niharika Dinkar is a fellow of the research program Art Histories and Aesthetic Practices at Forum Transregionale Studien, Berlin.
What was surprising to you when you were a child? What is it that you always wanted to know about the world?
I grew up cocooned in a convent in northeast India and the overriding impulse was always to get a sense of the world outside the convent walls. Politics interested me even as a child and although it was a politics of the ‘great men’ who shaped the world I was deeply curious. My other window to the world was fiction and I grew up completely immersed in the nineteenth century novel.
How would you explain your current research to a stranger in an elevator?
My work looks at the politics and aesthetics of nineteenth century painting in India, as it was negotiating the colonial presence and carving out an independent identity for itself. It was also the moment that reproductive technologies were circulating the image on an unprecedented scale and therefore it announces the birth of a visual culture that is multiplied manyfold in contemporary times.
Which stations of your academic journey were extremely formative to you?
I came of age in post liberalization 90s India when one was suddenly surrounded by a commercial visual culture that I felt needed to be considered about more deeply, one that I was not trained to think about from my literary background. I took up photography to understand the mechanics and aesthetics of image production, working as a freelance photojournalist and that paved the way for me to pursue my studies in art history and visual culture in the United States.
How is it, to do research in Germany?
Germany is a wonderful place to think about the formation of art history both from a disciplinary viewpoint as well as the institutional support it enjoys, given the State’s investment in the various museums that form the heart of the city in Berlin. Coupled with an interesting contemporary art scene, it offers much food for thought. Access to books and research material can however be daunting at times.
If you had one wish, what would you wish for the further development of your subject?
The numerous bureaucratic regulations that govern the ownership, circulation and distribution of images make life very hard for an art historian. They control the kind of research one can do, where one can publish, or whether one can address a chosen research topic at all. They pose challenges to academic freedom that are deeply problematic and need to be addressed.
Recent publications of Niharika Dinkar include:
“Masculine Regeneration and the Attenuated Body in Swadeshi Art: Reconsidering the Early Work of Nandalal Bose” in Oxford Art Journal. June 2010, 33(2) 167-188
Guest Editor: Framing Women: Gender in the Colonial Archive, Marg Vol. 62, No. 24, 2011