When Unity Trumps Liberty: The Politics of Monumental Statues in India

  • Online event
  • Wednesday, 29 September 2021
  • Lecture by Dr Kajri Jain, premiering on YouTube at 6pm. Part of our Monuments Research Season.

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In 2018 India broke the record for the world’s tallest statue with Statue of Unity, a figure of the country’s first Deputy Prime Minister Sardar Patel. At 597 foot tall, the statue is twice the height of the Statue of Liberty. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated it there were already two other even taller colossi in progress: statues of the Maratha king Shivaji (696 foot) and the god Ram (725 foot). Since the 1990s, in tandem with India’s economic liberalisation, monumental statues, secular and sacred, have become a central feature of Indian politics.

In this talk, art historian Kajri Jain discusses the emergence of this distinctive genre and the ways in which its efficacies are both similar and different to those of politically charged monuments elsewhere.

About the speaker

Dr Kajri Jain is Professor of Indian Visual Culture and Contemporary Art at the University of Toronto. Her research focuses on images at the interface between religion, politics, art, and vernacular business cultures in India; she also writes on contemporary art. Jain’s recent monograph, Gods in the Time of Democracy (Duke University Press, 2021), traces the emergence of monumental iconic sculptures in post-liberalisation India; the earlier Gods in the Bazaar: The Economies of Indian Calendar Art (Duke University Press, 2007) is about printed icons. Her writing has appeared in Art History, Third Text, Current Anthropology, The Immanent Frame, The Cambridge Companion to Modern Indian Culture, and New Cultural Histories of India.

Monuments Research Season

Every Wednesday throughout September we will present new research around monuments in a variety of forms, ranging from pre-recorded lectures to podcasts and artists films.

Topics will include the relationship between monuments, gender and sexuality, the role of religion and politics, monuments and colonial memory, and artists’ responses to monumentality. All material will be available to access online on our website and YouTube channel.

See all Monuments Research Season events


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