Modernity gets to be what it is because it has its others, and the same goes for art history. Enlightenment and the Enlightenment subject could only be formulated in comparison with the other: the colonized, the heathen, the unenlightened, the superstitious, the slave.
I spoke with Kajri Jain over Zoom during the early days of the pandemic in 2020. Our conversation began with a discussion of her early fieldwork in the bazaars in India, probing into Jain’s own education and formative experiences. It then detoured into a critical unpacking of art history’s “sacred cows’, the need to fundamentally rethink the discipline’s deep intertwining with colonialism, and the many forms of baggage that non-Western art historians must carry on their shoulders. Jain’s suspicion of medium specific approaches led to a productive dialogue about anthropologist Michael Taussig’s work, theory fetishism, and several facets of contemporary photography in South Asia. We agreed about the need to continue to critique an elitist discourse that misunderstands the importance of religion, and the embedded nature of caste, in any reading of aesthetics and mass culture in the subcontinent. Ending with the question of how to decolonize, provincialize and globalize when engaged in pedagogy, Jain left us with much to contemplate.