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The Department of Visual Arts

The Department of Visual Arts at Ashoka University combines courses in Art History and Visual Culture with training in material, media and site specific aspects of Studio Arts. While the Art History and Visual Culture courses offer historical and philosophical contexts in which visual arts has been developed and practiced, the Studio Arts courses help the students learn the fundamentals of an art form and develop it through practice. Both the components work in tandem and help the student acquire an integrated understanding of art.

 

The gateway courses are designed to offer thematic overview of various disciplines and media practice that constitute the field of Visual Arts. Given the University’s geographical and cultural location, the gateway courses introduce the students to the visual worlds of South Asian Art in its diverse form and material media. It offers critical training to some of the basic terms and methods of reading histories of South Asian Art as part of larger global cultural formations, explores sites of display of art in South Asia and beyond and engages with art as practice of various media.

 

The elective courses are designed thematically to address specific questions that are central to the disciplinary fields that constitute the realm of Visual Arts. These courses often extend beyond South Asia to raise larger questions around form, style, media and site specificity of the visual image. They engage with processes of production, reproduction, circulation and the impact of these images on the viewing public, explore the shifting temporal and cultural locations of major art movements, and dwell on methodological challenges posed by the turn to critical global art history.

Requirements
Minor Requirements
To pursue a minor in Visual Arts, one must complete six courses in Visual Arts. These include courses offered by the Department along with those offered by other departments and cross-listed with Visual Arts (code VA).
For UG/ASP 2021: One of the six courses taken should be a Gateway Course, which is Histories of South Asian Art; the rest can be Elective Courses offered in any semester.
For UG/ASP 2022 and onward: Four of the six courses taken should be gateway courses. The four gateways are a balanced mix of courses across art history and art practices and they are Histories of South Asian Art, Arts of our Times I, Arts of our Times II along with Sites and Sights.
 
Concentration:
To pursue a concentration in Visual Arts, one must complete four courses in Visual Arts. These include courses offered by the Department along with those offered by other departments and cross-listed with Visual Arts (code VA).
 
For UG/ASP 2021: One of the four courses taken should be a Gateway Course, which is Histories of South Asian Art; the rest can be Elective Courses offered in any semester.
 
For UG/ASP 2022 and onward: All four courses taken should be gateway courses,, which are Histories of South Asian Art, Arts of our Times I,  Arts in our Times II along with Sites and Sights.

The Department recommends this sequence for the Visual Arts Gateway courses for batches graduating 2023 onwards. The Department also recommends doing the two parts of Arts of our Times courses sequentially, but it is not mandatory. The courses otherwise can be done in any order.
 
Semester
Recommended Sequence (for batches graduating in 2023 onwards) - Visual Arts Compulsory Gateway Courses
1 (Monsoon)
None
2 (Spring)
Arts of our Times II: Media as a Material of Practice
3 (Monsoon)
Arts of our Times I: Mediums and Media in the Contemporary |
 Histories of South Asian Art: From the Earliest Times to the Present 
4 (Spring)
Sites and Sights: Museums, Exhibitions and the Making of the Art
5 (Monsoon)
None
6 (Spring)
None
 
Please note: 
*Gateway courses are offered once every academic year, and sometimes over the summer semester. Histories of South Asian Art and Arts of our Times I are offered in the Monsoon semester, whereas Sites and Sights and Arts of our Times II are offered in the Spring semester.
*The listing of Gateway and Elective Courses is provided in the Course Catalogue, and is subject to change.
*Also note: No combination of co-curriculars would count as a minor/concentration elective course for visual arts as it has been in the past.
Cross-Listing Policy

While some of the courses offered by Visual Arts are cross listed with other Departments, the Department of Visual Arts also houses cross listed courses offered by other Departments. This is integral to the spirit of interdisciplinary enquiry that we seek to foster at Ashoka. Please note that all cross listing decisions are interdepartmental decisions keeping in mind the pedagogic objectives of specific courses. 

 

Minor:

For UG/ASP 2021: A student completing a Minor in Visual Arts can take a maximum of two such cross-listed elective courses offered by another Department in conjunction with Visual Arts to count towards their minor. .

For UG/ASP 2022 and onward: A student completing a Minor in Visual Arts can take one such cross-listed elective course offered by another Department in conjunction with Visual Arts to count towards their minor.

 

Concentration:

For UG/ASP 2021: A student completing a Concentration in Visual Arts can take only one such cross-listed elective courses offered by another Department in conjunction with Visual Arts.

For UG/ASP 2022 and onward: The number of permissible cross listed courses for students pursuing a concentration in Visual Arts offered by other Departments is zero, since there will be no academic space available for any as all four courses will be the gateway courses.

Gateway Courses

VA-2004: Arts of our Times I - Medium and Media in the Contemporary 

Faculty: Rakhi Peswani

The course will enable the fundamentals of contemporary artistic practices through the structures of Time, Space, Place and (Im)materiality. Students will be urged to develop questions and expressions through a basis in practice of visual and other media forms. The course will engage experimentation in 2-Dimensional, 3-Dimensional and time based media to arrive at ideas and concepts through formations of repetitions. The objective of this course is to enable students with foundational clarity in contemporary artistic practices and its possibilities. Since it is a studio based course, certain introductions to histories of abstraction and installation art will be provided through the framework of revisionist art practices after the 1960s as well as provide introductions to affective possibilities of artistic languages. Both these realms will be expanded through making of artistic form and references towards art practices.

 

VA-3006/HIS-3804: Histories of South Asian Art: From the Earliest Times to the Present 

Faculty: Sraman Mukherjee 

What is Art and who is it meant for? What is specifically South Asian about South Asian Art? What does it mean to think of South Asia and Art as analytical categories? Did South Asian Art always exist? Or were historical processes involved in the making of the field? What are the objects of South Asian Art? Where do we locate the “genesis” of art in South Asia? Did art forms in South Asia emerge in a zone of cultural and social isolation? Or can we trace trajectories of trans-regional contacts, encounters, and exchanges as central to the shaping of the field of South Asian Art? What is the scope of tradition and innovation in the visual arts of South Asia? Did arts of South Asia “influence” artistic practices in other regions? How did artists at different points in history think about the region we identify as South Asia?

 

Seeking to address some of these questions, this course examines aspects of the visual arts of South Asia from its earliest traces in cave paintings and stone implements to sculpture, painting, illustrated manuscripts, calligraphy, and architecture. The course follows a chronological scale, from prehistory to c. 1950. The vast geographical as well as the temporal span of the field will restrict the course from delivering an encyclopedic survey. Instead it will prioritize intensive analysis of selected themes. Rather than placing the teleology of South Asian “art” solely in the context of changing dynastic histories, the course takes up specific themes in art across a range of objects, artefacts, archaeological sites, built spaces, religious and political symbols, and institutions of art pedagogy and exhibitions. In the process we address the questions of image, icon, and representations of body, landscape, portraiture in the context of social and ideological changes, aesthetic turns, shifting patrons and markets, and introduction of new material media. The course will probe both ‘South Asia’ and ‘South Asian Art’ as stable (art) historical categories and map the new methodologies and vocabularies employed by art historians.

 

VA-2005/ HIS-3802: Sites and Sights - Museums, Exhibitions and the Making of Art 

Faculty: Sraman Mukherjee

How do sites and spaces of encounter with the visual image condition our understanding of works of art? Seeking answers to these fundamental question in art history and visual culture, this course brings in dialogue the works of art with the spaces that such works have come to inhabit in our present world  -museums, art galleries, and other spaces of visual exhibitions. Moving beyond the established trajectories of looking at exhibitions, museums, and gallery spaces as safe storehouses of masterpieces of Art, or merely as spaces of ordering, classifying, and displaying objects and images, we will look closely at how exhibitionary practices of the museums and public art galleries, constitute the very category Art around a select body of objects and images. Beginning with early modern royal and notable private collections, and cabinet of curiosities across the world, the course will explore the specific moments of the coming into being of public museums and art galleries, freak shows and world exhibitions in Europe and across different parts of the world. With a specific focus on Asia, the course will map the connected global trajectories of art museums, art galleries and art fairs as diverse ways of engaging with the visual image. In the process it will highlight the role of the artists, curators, and museum/ gallery visitors in the production of a complex set of dialogues around artistic and curatorial visions. The course will end by looking at contemporary South Asia, mapping the challenges of redesigning exhibitionary orders of older museums and art institutions and spread of museum display modes for different intent in commemorative sites, theme parks, memorials, and new  temples. This co-constitution of art and art museums will be addressed during class discussions and during visits to local galleries, museums, theme parks, and temples.

 

VA-xxxx: Arts of our Times II - Media as Material of Practice
Faculty: Rakhi Peswani

This course will enable students to inculcate the fundamentals of contemporary artistic practice through material or immaterial interventions within certain critical contexts of their choice. Students will be urged to develop questions and expressions through a basis in non-functional or fictional routes, basing their work in visual and/or other media forms.


Students will be urged to produce a line of inquiry as an expression, in the formation of drawings, journaling, published material/blogs or any kind of public exposition of their ideas. Channels for information and communication will be seen as possible mediums to investigate and experiment in the creation of artistic practice. 2 Dimensional, 3 Dimensional and other media forms will be explored to locate mediums of circulation as departures of artistic forms.

Elective Courses

VA-3003: Artistic Practices in Everyday Life 

Faculty: Rakhi Peswani 

Through the framework of Everyday Life, this course will structure artistic practices as refined tools to trace, highlight and discern various social and political (dis)continuities that are seemingly imperceptible and yet embedded within the sphere of our everyday lives.

The course will engage students with certain frames of practice and theory, enabling them to develop critical and creative tools to understand and articulate the nuanced politics of everyday life. As a Visual Arts course, the students will be facilitated towards exploring and expressing their everyday lives as a storehouse for concern and research. Through the medias of mass-production and mass circulation, students will be urged to excavate everyday life. Students will be urged to explore and create visuals, namely through the media of drawing, photography, found materiality, moving images, sound, visual and material formations of written language through poetry and prose, print or digital channels of media. The thrust of the course will be to encourage students to frame and create a ‘body’ of artistic works that bring out clarity, positions, language on everyday life.

 

VA-3002/ HIS-3801: Empire, Nation and Art- Histories from the Visual Image

Faculty: Sraman Mukherjee 

This course explores global social formations from the fifteenth century of Common Era to our present times through the prism of visual images. We specifically focus on the centrality of visual archives in mapping histories of European colonialism under Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French, and British empires. The course will address a range of colonial formations and diverse articulations of nationalist thought and consciousness in different parts of the world through different visual forms across a range of media, sites, and objects. Beginning from naturalist paintings and drawings of unknown landscapes and oceans, descriptions of plants and animals, of unknown humans and exotic objects, the course moves on to explore diverse media and technologies of visual (re)productions like water colour, oil painting, lithographs, oleographs, chromolithographs, aquatints, photographs and the moving image, and maps different sites of visual simulations like cabinet de curiosities, ‘freak shows’, world exhibitions, metropolitan, colonial, and postcolonial public museums, art galleries, institutes of fine arts, crafts and design pedagogy. The course argues that global histories of colonialism, nationalism, and decolonization can be partially explored as histories of encounters, violent conflicts, tortuous negotiations, and often uneasy accommodations played out at the register of the visual image. The course urges us to rethink that notions of metropolis and colony, empire and nation, colonizer and colonized, alien and indigenous, as they are configured and reconfigured in the archives of the visual image, are historically relative, fluid categories, having only situational relevance. Moving away from a purely Euro-centric discussion of the beginnings of Art and Art History, this course moves towards a global history of art.


 

VA-105: Why does Art Matter? - The Efficacy of the Visual Image

Faculty: Sraman Mukherjee 

This course explores the diverse and myriad impact of works of art and the visual image more broadly on the viewing public. Drawing on a select body of objects and images across different temporal and spatial frames and from various sites of visual encounters – museums, art galleries, exhibitions, commemorative monuments, theme parks, streets and other public spaces, to a range of material media of visual images – paintings, prints, posters, maps, tourist brochures, photographs circulating in the print media, sculptures, and public statues, the course addresses the centrality of visual images in the making and unmaking of public spheres. Class discussions will be supplemented by visits to local galleries, museums, theme parks, and temples.

 

VA-3007: Visual Culture of Modern and Contemporary South Asia 

Faculty: Sraman Mukherjee 

How would histories look from the perspective of images? Do visual images help us to uncover alternate histories that remain otherwise untraceable in textual sources and archives? What are the potentials of visual images in the domain of historical research? What are the boundaries between images and texts, art and “non-art”? How are our ways of seeing shaped by social conditioning?  Are there “ways of seeing” that are specific to South Asia?

In seeking to answer some of these questions, this course sets out to explore the field of visual culture across South Asia, as it has developed at the intersections of disciplinary domains of history, art history, cultural and visual anthropology, film and media studies and heritage studies. It will examine the shifting nature and function of visual imagery in the modern and contemporary era, the changing technologies of production and reproduction, and the different circuits of reception, dissemination and circulation of images. Interdisciplinary in its appeal and content, the course will introduce students to a wide range of sites and media of cultural productions ranging from painting, photography and popular prints to maps, archaeological relics, religious icons, public architecture and monumental statuary; from sites of display and spectatorship in museums and exhibitions to temples and urban spaces; from worlds of scholarship to those of devotion and tourism; from celluloid images of films and television to the interactive domain of the world wide web. Placing these visual forms and practices within the particular historical and political contexts of colonialism, decolonization, state building and globalization, the course will address broader theoretical concerns about the centrality of nationalism, class, ethnicity, diaspora, religion, gender and sexualities in the constitution of modern and contemporary South Asian public spheres. Case studies from South Asia will be complemented by exploring image representations from other parts of Africa and Europe. Finally, through archives of images we will explore the different and often competing representations of South Asia both in the specific geographic region demarcated thus and in other parts of the globe among “Asians” and “non-Asian” communities in the diaspora.

 

VA-203: Approaching Art - Exploring the World in Objects and Images 

Faculty: Sraman Mukherjee 

How do we approach a visual image and decipher its meanings? What did early paintings in cave and rock shelters mean? What do images on Tutankhamun’s sarcophagus tell us about the society of ancient Egypt? How did Mesopotamian and Assyrian art forms inform the art of classical and Hellenic antiquity? Why is ‘Venus de Milo’ considered as an idealized form of feminine beauty? How did the rise of Christianity shape the figure of the Madonna? What role did visual narratives play in the spread of world religions like Buddhism? How do we account for ‘erotic’ sculptures in pre-modern Hindu temples? What are the cultural dialogues between Byzantine art and early Islamic art? Do all images become works of art? How do we distinguish between an artifact and a work of art? Why does a select body of objects and images emerge as masterpieces? Why is Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa considered as a masterpiece? How do we read Michelangelo’s David? 

 

How does Art History enable us to read images? What role does formal analysis of style, form, and media play in our encounters with visual arts? Did the introduction of oil on canvas revolutionize our perception of the visual field? What is so captivating about Johannes Vermeer’s ‘Girl with the Pearl Earring’ and Rembrandt’s ‘The Night Watch’? Can we trace social, political, and historical processes at work in the making of some images into works of art? What sets apart an artist from an artisan? What constitutes the ‘aura’ of art? Should we read works of art as reflections of individual creative (artistic) genius or place them within a wider history of available technique, style, materials, media, patronage, market, connoisseurship and display? How do sites of encounter, museums, art galleries, and other spaces of visual simulation, frame our understanding of art works? Can Art emerge as a language of protest?

 

Seeking to address these questions, this course introduces some of the critical objects, images, and texts across a range of material media and sites in the field of Art History and Visual Culture. The approach is partly historiographical and partly analytic. Readings will be drawn from key texts by major aesthetes, art critics, and art historians and will concentrate on specific images and objects from civilizations of the distant past to our present times across various parts of the globe. Class discussions will be supplemented by visits to local galleries and museums. We will specifically focus on the questions of the adequacy of established art-historical paradigms of formal, stylistic, and iconographic analysis in dealing with the ‘expanded field’ of visual studies today. The course will end by exploring the rise of visual culture as a field of studies and question the apparent displacement of studies of ‘the object’ by studies of ‘the image’ in the visual field.

 

VA-2001/HIS-3806: Visual Culture of Indian Paintings - Courtly Traditions 

Faculty: Preeti Bahadur Ramaswami 

The course offers a critical survey of miniature paintings made for Mughal, Rajput and Deccani courts from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries in India. It will focus on this period but also look at the sources of these traditions within Persian and Indian schools of paintings on the one hand, and their production beyond the eighteenth century into the present on the other, as contemporary miniatures made in India and Pakistan. The course will open ways of entering the intensely visual fields of these paintings for students.  It will map the field by exploring schools, workshops and ateliers and offer an understanding of style as a dynamic tool, both for artists and patrons.  Following this, the course will focus on themes both as subject matter of the paintings, and for understanding the affective, cultural and political value of these works. Themes will include the relationship of texts and paintings, representation of music, devotion, and courtly etiquette.

 

VA-3001/PA-3009: Art, Crafts and Performative Practices from Central India: Chartering Identities 

Faculty: Preeti Bahadur Ramaswami

The course will focus on critically examining trajectories in artisanal and performative practices from the region of central India in post-Independence India.  The states of Madhya Pradesh and the more recently created state of Chhattisgarh will form the ambit of discussions. The course will acquaint students with case histories of practitioners, to trace trajectories of transformation. It will engage with questions of caste and community, agency and selfhood to understand the shaping of art forms and their contexts as well as well as the role and modes of interventions in these practices, including the work of anthropologists, scholars, museums, institutions, and the market.  Students will critically engage with discourses surrounding the representation of these forms, including the binaries of art versus craft, or the categories of folk and tribal.  

 

VA-2002: The Uses of Art - Contexts and Themes from History 

Faculty: Sarada Natarajan 

This theme-based course samples a diverse range of functions and manifestations of the visual arts in specific geographical and historical contexts (West Asian, European and Indian Art). Thematic areas will include - Art and the rhetoric of power in ancient West Asia, modes of story-telling in ancient and medieval Indian sculpture, and unraveling Khajuraho. The objective of this course is to expose students to the agential, performative nature of art in cultural contexts removed from our own; to perceive the numerous ways in which artworks go well beyond their universally recognized role of ‘reflecting’ their originary cultural contexts by actively contributing to ‘shaping’ those very contexts.  Students are encouraged to extrapolate to the present, to investigate similar or parallel phenomena that influence and shape our realities today.  The course pedagogy is structured to introduce participants, in the initial weeks, to the critical reading of texts on the one hand and to methods of visual interpretation on the other. The course will comprise visual-intensive, interactive class lectures with the learnings applied to one group project and two individual projects. Evaluation will be based on class-room interactions and on the multimodal projects that students research and execute, extending their understanding of the themes to a creative take on contemporary cultural phenomena.

 

VA-3005: Medieval Stone Sculpture in India - Focus on Facture 

Faculty: Sarada Natarajan 

Taking up medieval Indian sculpture as its primary object field, this course seeks to recast the powerfully narrativized art history of lithic sculpture in India as the history of makers and making. Students will be introduced to the area of study via a brief chronologically and geographically ordered survey of medieval Indian sculpture and architecture and a condensed historiography of the subject area. They will then explore a selection of texts relating to the changing status of medieval stone sculptors, guild movements and migrations. Simultaneously, they will be exposed to elements of feminist and subaltern theory with the intention of building a framework for analyzing the status of Indian artisans. These insights will be applied to a study of Hoysala art and the significance artists’ ‘signatures’. Once they gain some familiarity with the materials, tools, techniques, processes and the material circumstances of sculptural production in medieval India, they will be taken on a weekend field trip, if the situation permits, for an intimate interaction with sculptures in the National Museum at New Delhi or an outdoor monument site. They will apply their learning to a final project where they interpret a making-related text from medieval Kalinga. The objective of this course is to give students a ringside glimpse of the complex material circumstances of sculptural production in two important medieval monument sites in India. Simultaneously, they critically confront the biases inherent within Indian art historiography that pressure the discipline to anonymize artisans and to obscure the processes of making. The course is split into an introductory series of lectures and two project-based modules.

 

VA-202: Understanding Art

Faculty: Janice Pariat

This course explores the definitions of art developed by societies from the ancient Greeks to our globalized world. ‘What is art?’ is the question posed as we consider objects and activities in settings both remote in time and place and present around us. It attempts to build a critical language for classifying and evaluating a broad range of visual forms of expression. The disciplines of aesthetics, hermeneutics, iconography and iconology are explored in order to find an approach that works across the cultures East and West. The course looks into connoisseurship, taste and the role of the institutions of the art world.

 

VA-2005: Figurative Drawing 

Faculty: Anni Kumari 

The course focuses on the exploration of the human body using drawing as a formal and conceptual tool. Through a practice led approach students will have the opportunity to develop a three-dimensional understanding of anatomy and body structure by engaging with a wide range of materials, techniques and processes including cut-outs, wood-cut printmaking, stenciling, tracing & enlarging.The course encourages students to think of observation based drawings as a process of dialogue between the physical and the visceral by working through a series of processes that reveal the transformation of the image at each stage. It values not just accuracy and attention to detail, but also the emphasis on developing a personal vocabulary by bringing in socio-anthropological layers of association with the body. It seeks to offer an insight into artistic practices wherein the human figure plays a pivotal role in communicating ideas, philosophies and experiences related to diverse socio-political, historical references. It is envisaged to familiarize students with skills and techniques that enable them to connect concepts, processes and materials into a concise whole through a hands-on approach.

 

VA-3004: Sculpture with Pottery Techniques 

Faculty: Rajesh Ram 

The course will focus on modelling and casting processes with pottery style hollow techniques. A sculpture may become a form of pottery art using material like clay. Clay artistic works are related to fine art pottery whereas pottery mostly signifies pots, dishes and usable items. Three-dimensional clay sculpture follows the pottery techniques for firing and strength. We will follow the most common hand building pottery techniques like coil building and slab building. Some sub-techniques the course will touch upon is carving, casting and moulding. The subjects of the sculpture will vary and will include the human body, abstract forms/shapes, objects from around us (through the casting process) and using pots/dishes to make a sculptural form. The course will also touch upon practical knowledge about firing and glazing of sculptures.

 

VA-xxxx: Monotype Printmaking

Faculty: Anni Kumari

Monotype printmaking or ‘Monotyping’ is an innovative process of creating a single print on paper. A monotype is a hybrid of drawing and printmaking. The artist would draw on a plate; the plate would be sandwiched with a piece of paper and run through a press. It goes through the press once and then the image is pulled off onto the sheet of paper.

 

VA-1040-1: Contemporary Drawing

Faculty: Anni Kumari

 

VA-3012-1: Three-Dimensional Clay Modelling

Faculty: Rajesh Ram


VA-6099-1/HIS-5801-1-1: Critical Methodologies for Art History 

Faculty: Sraman Mukherjee 

Courses cross-listed with Visual Arts (in previous semesters):

ENG-3032/VA-3009-1: Seminar in Medieval Studies: Global Medievalism

Faculty: Alexandra Verini and Mayookh Barua

 

ENG-2020/VA-3011-1: Introduction to Medieval Studies: Medieval Visions and Visionaries 

Faculty: Alexandra Verini and Malay Bera

 

POL-3024/VA-3010-1: The Political Arts

Faculty: Malvika Maheshwari and Gaurika Kumar

Faculty
Visiting Faculty