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When the Gods Emerge from the Temples: Iconic Exhibition Value and Democratic Publicness in India

October 9, 2018 @ 4:10 pm - 6:00 pm

Part of IRCPL’s Rethinking Public Religion Project

Kajri Jain – When Gods Emerge from the Temples: Iconic Exhibition Value and Democratic Publicness in India

We are well acquainted with how the affective forces of modern politics depart from the normative ideals of bourgeois publicness. But rather than treating this departure as a binary opposition perhaps it’s more useful to recognize the layered coexistence of, and circuits between, these modalities of publicness, as when electoral politics strategically deploys both religious and secular idioms while also keeping distinctions between them in play. Religion, too, has taken on board the salience of the secular horizon, adopting its forms of value and authority alongside auratic canonical traditions. Revisiting the “oscillation” between cult and exhibition value in a footnote to Benjamin’s Artwork Essay, this talk provides a glimpse into how successive new image technologies and genres of public iconopraxis in India, from neighbourhood festivals and printed icons to monumental concrete deities, have played a key role in melding the sensible idioms of democracy and religion.

Kajri Jain
is Associate Professor of Indian Visual Culture and Contemporary Art at the University of Toronto. Her research focuses on images at the interface between religion, politics, and vernacular business cultures in India; she also writes on contemporary art. Author of Gods in the Bazaar: The Economies of Indian Calendar Art (Duke University Press, 2007), Jain is currently completing a book on the emergence of monumental iconic sculptures in post-liberalization India, Gods in the Time of Democracy (Duke University Press, forthcoming). Recent essays have appeared in Third Text, Current Anthropology, and Identities and the edited volumes Places of Nature in Ecologies of Urbanism, Art History and Emergency, the Cambridge Companion to Modern Indian Culture, and New Cultural Histories of India.


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