Evolving Art in South Asia

South Asia has been subject to diverse influences driven by geography, religious expansion, military ambition, colonial occupation as well as lifestyles and fashions. These influences have also impacted art in the region.

By Zainab Manzoor | December 2022

The societal and political developments which have shaped South Asia throughout centuries are reflected in the region’s art. The religions in the region, i.e. Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, Buddhism, etc. have played a dominant role in the shaping the region;s art in terms of content and technique. The creation of perceptions of belonging, wherein numerous cultures tend to coexist, has depended heavily on conceptions and identifications of specific cultural components as “tradition” across history.

Civilization, history, and art have traditionally been connected, fusing together seemingly incompatible concepts yet maintaining recognisably regional features in their visual forms. Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Islam, even Christianity all were embraced during the past two millennia, and numerous more inhabitants added to the region’s diverse artistic history. The combination of these various elements has influenced the composite way of life.

In an effort to examine and build stronger personalities, artists have drawn on various facets of cultures over time. In colonial and post-colonial society, considerations of belonging and nationality carry strong emotional undertones. Presently, as the the art of this region expands into the international domain, the terms “modern” and “globalisation” are frequently used in discourse.

Traditional art had lost the esteem of the aristocracy by the period the subcontinent joined the British Empire. In the 16th century, Western art initially entered the Mughal dynasty, and during the nineteenth century, artists started adding Mannerism into their works. However, the British Raj’s aspirational art strategy had a significant role in colonial India’s quick uptake of classical culture.

In order to offer different types of skills courses, the British built art academies to teach drawing teachers, designers, surveyors, and sculptors. With such an objective in mind, an art school was opened in Kolkata in 1854. Although a few students from the traditional artist families originally enrolled, there existed a clear elite domination at the academy in which the majority of the learners came from the bhadralok (gentry) tribes. In order to educate “applied art” rather than “fine art,” as taught mostly by the Royal College of Art, this and many other art schools were founded on the pattern of the Central School of Industrial Art at South Kensington.

A statement of possession and control on Indian art in contradiction to the theories of European academics occurred with the emergence of nationalism. According to this opinion, Indians are the ones who can understand Indian traditions the most. The promoters created a distinct place in which the writers spoke to audiences and presented an “indigenous” perspective by positioning inside a predominately Western sphere of activity and expertise, such as painting and art history.

Depending on certain art scholars, the societal and political revolutions of the 1940s gave the subcontinent’s painters a sense of societal accountability that created the initial modern practices in art. In order to fit their supposed customs within the artistic paradigm of Western concepts as well as the vast array of European art styles, artists found it difficult to integrate the local context.

Their works of art reflected the setting and culture they lived in. They used contemporary language patterns rather than just using modernism’s conventional terminology.

Culture has played an important role in the development of India. It has contributed to a set of shared attitudes, values, goals and practices. Culture and creativity manifest themselves in almost all economic, social and other activities in the country. In fact, India is symbolized by the plurality of its culture.
Pakistan has a rich history in all the visual arts—painting, architecture, textiles and decorative arts, and sculptures. Traditionally, visual arts in Pakistan have been influenced by Islam’s preference for geometric shapes. These ancient designs often look “modern” to people in the West.

The emergence of Bangladesh as a nation state, and the process has been instrumental in the direction of art in Bangladesh. Configurations of identity and their changing perceptions, vis-à-vis the intelligentsia, have played a major role in fashioning its form.]

Afghanistan art has spanned many centuries. One of the most famous kinds is the Gandhara art between the 1st and 7th century based on Greco-Buddhist art. Since the 1900s, the nation began to use Western techniques in art.

The art of Sri Lanka is closely allied to that of India but presents several distinctive features that make a separate treatment convenient. There is, first, the considerable transformation of Indian influences, resulting in an idiom of great power and individuality. Sri Lanka also often served as a geographical pocket in which styles that had disappeared in India were preserved, which accounts for the anachronistic features of some phases of Sinhalese art.

The artifacts, coins, and written records of empires and kingdoms that emerged and dissolved throughout history help us anchor the boundaries of people who shared a common lifestyle, language, and religion. In the study of prehistoric artifacts, other factors — such as shared technologies and ritual practices — help us recognize patterns of living that indicate geographically coherent cultures and societies.