Contemporary Visual Culture in South Asia

Amrita Ajay's picture
Call for Publications
February 28, 2017
Subject Fields: 
Art, Art History & Visual Studies, Cultural History / Studies, South Asian History / Studies, Humanities, Literature

Images today are ubiquitous, consummate and definitive in their affect. Visual culture studies has responded to this aspect of our technologised modernity through incisive analyses that counterpose disciplines as varied as history, cultural geography, psychoanalysis, literature and anthropology, to study a wide variety of visual practises. How we see and are seen through various viewing apparatuses and technologies unquestionably shape subjectivities, politics and art practises today.


The twenty-first century, in private and public life, has perpetually brought attention to the use of visual media in the geopolitical region of South Asia. As the most populous region of the globe, it is socio-economically and culturally critical to the world at large and the global south in particular. Shaped by long and distinct histories of colonialism, regional and religious conflicts, wars, ideological tussles and political turmoil, South Asia has quickly moved from the margins to the center-stage of academic inquiry in the past few decades.


When Martin Jay speaks of the need to explore multiple scopic regimes to challenge hegemonic ones in the West, he suggestively adds that the eastern scopic regimes are different because of the absence of scientific revolutions there. However, the scopic regimes of South Asia are made even more complex in the context of cultural heterogeneity and competing traditions battling under the burden of a fraught history and the onslaught of the forces of globalisation and neo-imperialism. Public policy decisions and privately made compromises over health, entertainment, food and sexuality are seen to be intimately, affectively, bound to an exercise of and participation in methods and networks of visual apprehension. Sandria Freitag coins the phrase ‘South Asian way of seeing’, after John Berger, and it is time to consider whether, at this historical juncture, such an imperative can indeed be realised.


We solicit scholarly papers for an edited volume of essays that looks at the complex life of images in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan. How are politics and aesthetics determined and determining in the richly contested cultural domain of South Asia? How do visual cultures discursively create and challenge histories, nationalisms, traditions, modernities and their counters? Can the ‘pictorial turn’ signal a radical alterity? Where do images intervene in debates on art history, postcolonialism, cultural identities and even linguistic hegemonies? These questions are ridden with fundamental issues regarding artistic autonomy, intellectual property rights and censorship, on the one hand, and the curious independence of visual literacy from textual literacy in South Asia on the other. This is further complicated by the problem of technology as convenience and/or surveillance.


 An endeavour such as this is also meant to reconsider the orientation of visual studies today. Therefore, attention to the production, circulation and consumption of visuals, which recognises their embeddedness in material and cultural practises, is vital but contributors are encouraged to undertake in-depth analysis of form, technique and the afterlife of less-explored media/genres like textile art, political caricature, performance art, graphic novels, book illustration, tarot cards, picturebooks, installation art and digital art. 


We invite abstracts, of no more than 400 words, from global scholars of all disciplines, for papers that engage critically with these issues. Topics may include but are not limited to:

Urban Narratives

Identity, affect and location

Body, gender and sexuality

Myth and religion

Language of the verbal and the visual

Nationality and citizenship

Pop culture and new media

Dissent and activism

Childhood and consumption

Culinary semiotics

Adaptation and performativity

Digital corporeality


Please send submissions, along with a brief bio-note, to



Contact Info: 

Amrita Ajay, University of Delhi

Samarth Singhal, University of Delhi