Play at the Turn of the Millennium: Re-framing South Asian Diasporic Art (1980s - present)

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PLAY AT THE TURN OF THE MILLENNIUM: RE-FRAMING SOUTH ASIAN DIASPORIC ART (1980 – PRESENT) Natasha Bissonauth, Ph.D Cornell University 2017 Play at the Turn of the Millennium develops a theory of play around aesthetic forms such as camp, parody, and caricature that re-remembers art in the age of identity. This dissertation historicizes a moment of political emergence in South Asian diasporic art (in North America and the UK) that coincides with the postcolonial in the art world. In a rush to inaugurate a confrontation to the canon, art criticism focused on historically marginalized content – an urgent and overdue intervention that shifted traditional approaches in art history, but one that came at the expense of a formal analysis of what the artists were doing in the work – their aesthetic labor. Furthermore, where aesthetics were emphasized, recurring themes include nostalgia, collective solidarity, and opposition have dominated the framing of contemporary art from South Asia and its diaspora. Through formal analysis, archival research, historical contextualization, and interviews this project uncovers an under-examined set of subversively playful aesthetics across multiple South Asian diasporas. I argue for play as a transformative aesthetic that not only counters regimes that regulate visibility but that renders them absurd. Fostering a transnational gaze in art history at the intersection of area studies, diaspora studies, and gender and sexuality, this dissertation shows how attention to playful aesthetics during this period exposes how mainstream conceptions of diversity and multiculturalism police what cultural difference should look like.

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South Asia; Art history; Queer; Contemporary Art; Diaspora


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Dadi, Muhammad Iftikhar

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Warner, Sara L.
Finley, Cheryl

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History of Art, Archaeology and Visual Studies

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Ph. D., History of Art, Archaeology and Visual Studies

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Doctor of Philosophy

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dissertation or thesis

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