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Written in the wake of the widely publicised attacks by Hindu nationalist activists on the late M. F. Husain, India's most famous artist and a prominent Muslim, The Art of Secularism addresses the entanglement of visual art with political secularism. The crisis in secularism in India, commonly associated with the rise of Hindu nationalism in the 1980s, transformed the meaning of art. It challenged the relationships between modernism, national culture, secularism and modernity that had been built since India's independence in 1947.
The Art of Secularism describes how four renowned artists--M. F. Husain, K. G. Subramanyan, Gulammohammed Sheikh, and Bhupen Khakhar--developed their practice in an era when secular nationalism grappled with the recent re-enchantment of signs. Combining close readings of these artists' work with ethnography of the art worlds of Mumbai and Vadodara, Karin Zitzewitz describes both the everyday forms of cosmopolitanism in the Indian art world and the increasing vulnerability of art world spaces to cultural regulation. She also presents the shifting conditions of the production and exhibition of art within the particularly urgent, varied, and sophisticated public debates about secularism in India, in which artists have been increasingly prominent interlocutors.
Karin Zitzewitz is Assistant Professor of Art History and Visual Culture at Michigan State University.