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About the Book

Beyond the Book

360 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 28 color and 78 b&w illus., notes, bibl., index

Not for Sale in South Asia

Islamic Civilization and Muslim Networks

ISBN  978-0-8078-3358-2
Published: May 2010

Modernism and the Art of Muslim South Asia

By Iftikhar Dadi

Awards & Distinctions

2010 American Institute of Pakistan Studies Junior Book Prize

This pioneering work traces the emergence of the modern and contemporary art of Muslim South Asia in relation to transnational modernism and in light of the region's intellectual, cultural, and political developments.

Art historian Iftikhar Dadi here explores the art and writings of major artists, men and women, ranging from the late colonial period to the era of independence and beyond. He looks at the stunningly diverse artistic production of key artists associated with Pakistan, including Abdur Rahman Chughtai, Zainul Abedin, Shakir Ali, Zubeida Agha, Sadequain, Rasheed Araeen, and Naiza Khan. Dadi shows how, beginning in the 1920s, these artists addressed the challenges of modernity by translating historical and contemporary intellectual conceptions into their work, reworking traditional approaches to the classical Islamic arts, and engaging the modernist approach towards subjective individuality in artistic expression. In the process, they dramatically reconfigured the visual arts of the region. By the 1930s, these artists had embarked on a sustained engagement with international modernism in a context of dizzying social and political change that included decolonization, the rise of mass media, and developments following the national independence of India and Pakistan in 1947.

Bringing new insights to such concepts as nationalism, modernism, cosmopolitanism, and tradition, Dadi underscores the powerful impact of transnationalism during this period and highlights the artists' growing embrace of modernist and contemporary artistic practice in order to address the challenges of the present era.

About the Author

Iftikhar Dadi is assistant professor in the Department of History of Art at Cornell University.


"A pick for college-level holdings surveying South Asian culture and art and for Muslim history holdings alike. . . . Makes for an excellent in-depth, college-level analysis."
--Midwest Book Review

“Dadi’s analysis is complex, impressively documented, and richly illustrated . . . . [An] enlightening book that anyone interested in the many varieties of modern Muslim culture should read.”
--Journal of Asian Studies

"Dadi introduces us to the lives and works of a set of Muslim South Asian artists who use traditional and nontraditional forms to imagine new ways of thinking about society, history, and politics. This is a pathbreaking contribution to the literature on Muslim aesthetics in South Asia that will encourage readers to think differently about Pakistan's own past and present and lead to a reevaluation of how Muslim history in South Asia should be written. And although it focuses on Pakistan, the book will benefit people working on similar issues in other parts of the world."
--Kamran Asdar Ali, University of Texas, Austin

"This book is urgently needed. Dadi marshals the visual material from twentieth-century Pakistan to deconstruct the binaries (tradition/modernity, authentic/inauthentic, innovative/derivative) that have structured most of the previous writing on artistic production outside of Euro-America during this period.This book is intelligently conceived, engagingly argued, and has profound implications for the fields of both art history and postcolonial studies."
--Finbarr Barry Flood, Institute of Fine Arts and Department of Art History, New York University, author of Objects of Translation: Material Culture and Medieval “Hindu-Muslim” Encounter

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