Modern Oriental Art Conference, Moscow, 07-10-15

Theorizing Opulent Theatrical Fashion-cum-Art Shows in India

On Artistic Nationalism, Neo-feudal Ornamentalism, and Philanthrocapitalism’

7th October 2015

Moscow Museum of Modern Art, Modern Oriental Art Conference

Lecture abstract:

Grounded in a long-term ethnographic fieldwork in New Delhi and Lucknow (2008-2012) among elite Indian fashion designers and performance artists, the paper interrogates the rise of opulent and theatrical fashion shows. Such theatrical fashion shows, which can be considered a powerful, ritualistic and affective form of contemporary art, have over the last decade become spaces where an elitist form of artistic nationalism is cultivated and given material shape and form, while allowing the elites to display their proud Indianness and belonging, and playing with their position vis-à-vis other classes and multiply localized transnational elites. This paper, using the case of the fashion designer and art photographer JJ Valaya, analyses a peculiar return of orientalist or rather lavishly ornamentalist aesthetics (Cannadine, 2002) inspired by the maharajas and royals of bygone eras on the fashion ramp that has intensified following the global financial crisis of 2008. This shift, away from looking up to the West and towards national pride and celebration of India’s heritage and future superpowerdom that manifests itself in the popularity of neo-aristocratic ornamentalist aesthetics displaying elements of self- orientalization, is then analysed in relation to contemporary local as well as global political climate and rise of socio-economic inequality.