The current canon’s origin originates from Giorgio Vasari’s 1550 book Le Vite De’ più eccellenti Architetti, Pittori et Scultori Italiani, a biased survey of what Vasari viewed as important works of art.  This precursor to today’s canon highlights the works of High Renaissance artists was well as placing Vasari’s home-city, Florence, as the center of art’s history.  Texts written since then have stuck to the structure as well as the content of Vasari’s selection of art work.  The works of art largely focuses on white European males, who were selected based upon a “genius” factor.  The genius nature of the artists ultimately separates the viewer and the artists.  Despite this, the actual structure of Vasari’s work does embody the elements of a canon.  As stated by Nanette Salomon, it contains “individual contributions, fixes the terms of a generational and stylistic development of the history of an art, and provides standards for aesthetic judgments along classical lines.”  The criterions for these aesthetic judgments are based on the analysis of an objects separation from consideration of its economic or religious significance.

The problem with the present canon is that it still closely follows that set by Vasari.  Today the world has become a smaller, and the availability too look at images and learn about the culture of different places it much more accessible.  There is a need for art historians, especially in a globalized culture, need to place “non-Western” work into the canon, rather than a canon dominated by  Vasari’s emphasis on white male European artists.  Issues with the limitations of other artists have frustrated both feminist as well as those concerned with “non-Western” works.  As stated by Saloman, “this omission of whole categories of art and artist has resulted in an unrepresentative and distorting notion of who as contributed to the ‘universal’ ideas expressed through creativity and aesthetic effort.”  Additionally, by omitting works by artists who do not fit into the mold, that is overall, followed today creates a hierarchical structure in the world of art.  For the canon highlights not what is included but rather what is excluded.  Those works that are not accepted are reduced to a lower status of art and therefore inferior works of art.  Thus the ultimate problem with the canon lies in its inability to include works of art that encompass all aspects of aesthetic values from different times and places.

A reevaluation should be less concerned with what should be expunged from the canon rather there should be a consideration of what needs to be added. A watercolor painting by Abanindranath Tagore (1871-1951) depicts a domesticated camel at the end of a journey.  Its head is laid on the ground as it prepares to lay the rest of its body upon a pile of rocks and the harness and packs are still attached to its back.  The camel is situated in the desert with an orange-brown ground and a burnt-orange sky indicates that the camel truly is at the end of its journey, for the colors are those of a setting sun.   The watercolor is titled A Journey’s End however the date of its creation is unknown.

The subject matter is a well known subject in India, where camels and this image are well known.  The color palette notably of the orange and brown reflect the colors typically seen within the daily lives of Indian peoples at sunset.  Tagore’s desire to promote Indian nationalism is evident in both his subject matter as well as his choice for colors.

The importance of this piece rests not only it its aesthetic beauty, but the context in which it was created.  Tagore was a prominent artist of the Bengal school, which during the early twentieth-century was an influential style in India that was associated with Indian nationalism, but was also promoted and supported by many British arts administrators.  Furthermore, he was a major promoter of swadeshi values in Indian art.  By following swadeshi or self-sufficiency a movement known as the Swadeshi movement came into fruition.  Its goal was to remove the British Empire from power and improve economic conditions in India.

Although this is only one example of a piece that should be considered to being added into the canon, it is an important piece in regards to the context in which the piece was created and more importantly the place in which it was created.  Before the canon considers works of art from far lands such as China, Korea and Japan it needs to evaluate the work of India.  As stated by John Onians, “India [is] a central keystone, recipient, and source of many influences.”  If the canon is to increase its range and quantity of work in the world it needs to not only look at the completely foreign and exotic art works.  Lastly, when studying and incorporating “non-Western” art the interpretation and evaluation should not be done solely from a “Westerners” perspective.  A voice of opinion should be given to every prominent side and should even include a cross-cultural examination from of different artistic approaches from different region.

The Journey’s End

Abanindranath Tagore

Nalini Malani

Fusing contemporary electron media and traditional paint-based techniques, Nalini Malani has come to the forefront of a generation of Indian artists who, in the 1980s, moved to international focus. At that time she was a figurative painter whose works powerfully raised issues of race, class, and gender primarily in India. In the 1990s, thanks to installations at the 1995 Johannesburg Biennial and other venues, she came to be known primarily as a media artist. She often illustrates the lives of those that have been ignored, forgotten, or marginalized by history. Her pieces are politically charged and reflect a deep commitment to women’s issues, particularly in regards to women’s struggle for voice and power. Ancient Greek and Hindu epics, and modern European drama, give additional subtext to Malani’s complex layered surfaces.

Malani was born in 1946 in Karachi, a year before the Partition of India, and her family emigrated as refugees from Pakistan to India, where they endured cultural dislocation. While Indian art for decades was mostly focused on new interpretations of its traditions, Malani’s framework has always reached farther than the boundaries of India. As she evolved as an artist, she related against the male-dominated world of India. For two decades her work centered on painting, then moved progressively into the realms of installation and theater. Her works are dominated by three prominent themes, where she engages in socio-political issues.

Her works tend to display three themes: woman’s experiences and roles as an allegory of our times; he underlying realities of urban life and the consequences of man-made ecological disasters; and her reinterpretation of classical epic narratives and modern drama to reveal universal yet elusive aspects of the human experience.

Many of her works interpret women’s experiences and roles as an allegory for our times, such as the installation Mother India: Transactions in the Construction of Pain, 2005. It prompts consideration of women’s roles in patriarchal societies and addresses the issue of sexual violence against women in time of war. It specifically references her personal experiences as a refugee of the Partition when thousands were killed in Hindu-Muslim violence. The women who are raped or kidnapped, many of them decided to marry their violators because babies had been born. Five years later, after the women had made a life for themselves, the Indian and Pakistani governments each stated that they wished the women to return to their “home” countries. For these women it was like a second partition. It is only now that they are much older and they will soon pass away that they share their story in order to be remembered. Malani in an interview states, “The bodies of women were metaphors for the nation, they had to bear the signs of their possession by the enemy.”

Malani’s second theme of works looks at the underlying realities of urban life and the consequences of man-made ecological disasters. In her film Remembering Toba Tek Singh, it negiatively focuses on India’s underground nuclear testing. The video installation draws on the short story of the same name by author Sadat Hsan Mantu. The story is set during the Partition and is about a mental patient, Bishen Singh, who was so confused by the process of administering India’s Partition that he did not know whether the land he was standing on was India or Pakistan. He refused to be removed to India and dies. Manali uses the symbolism of Singh’s death to explore the effects of partition on the human and environmental condition. The installation, video projections show two women folding a sari across the exhibition space. The unabridged gap between the projected images acts as a metaphor for partition and the nuclear impasse between India and Pakistan.

Continuously throughout the majority of her work, Malani reinterprets classical epic narratives and modern drama to reveal universal yet elusive aspects of the human experience. Most of her characters are based on various female protagonists, Sita from the Hindu epic. The two female characters share parallels between their two stories: both were associated with the earth, both went into exile for the sake of their husbands, and their men eventually rejected both. Sita and Medea then figure as supremely tragic and potent symbols for deeply ingrained gender-biased in Indian and European mythology, but also for desire, violence, and betrayal as basic characteristics of human behavior.

Art and War: The Bamiyan Buddhas

In the center of the long valley that separates the chain of the Hindu Kush from that of the Koh-i-baba range, lays the oasis town of Bamiyan. In the foothills northeast of the town is a series of sanctuaries and assembly halls that for more than a mile honeycomb the cliff side, along with the carvings of two colossal standing Buddhas. Before the destruction at Bamiyan, by the Taliban in 2001, the monastery consisted of rock-cut halls and cell-like sanctuaries, which were carved entirely from the face of the sandstone cliff. At the eastern end a Buddha stands 120 feet high and has been designated as the Sakya muni (or Historical Buddha) and to the west stands the 175 foot Buddha known as Maitreya (or Buddha Image.)

The first accurate information regarding Bamiyan and the Buddhas was recorded by the seventh-century Chinese scholar monk Xuanzang (Tsuan-tsang) who traveled the Silk Road and reached Bamiyan around 630 CE. Xuanzang made a sixteen-year pilgrimage to India, in order to learn about Buddhism and its teachings. During his travels he wrote Records of the Western Region, which he wrote for the Tang emperor, and it contains a description of Bamiyan and the Buddhas. In his journal he mistakenly described the smaller statue as being made of metal, because at the time of his visit it was entirely covered with gold-leaf and metal ornaments. It as from Xuanzang’s writings that later inspired 19th century Europeans to visit Bamiyan and learn about this vast monastery.
Bamiyan came to notice through the travels of nineteenth century explorers such as Alexander Burnes and Charles Masson. The first full-scale archaeological investigation of Bamiyan began with the founding of the Déleéation archéologique français en Afghanistan (DAFA) and was completed in November 1922, emphasized the importance of the sites at Bamiyan. After the Second World War, Benjamin Rowland and Zemaryalai Tarzi have been the most active Western researchers. With Proffesor Tarzi continues today to search at Bamiyan for the Reclining Buddha.

The towering image was a focus of attention for all pilgrims traveling the Silk Road to Bamiyan and then to India. The larger Bamiyan Buddha, because of its impact on the traveler, was of great importance. Small replicas of the Bamiyan Buddha were carried back by pilgrims to China and Japan, and so became prototypes for particular sacred or holy images. Little if anything of colossal statues had been known before in China and Japan.
The Bamiyan caves have undergone both natural and intentional destruction. Since the ninth century, after the Muslim community drove the Buddhist out of Bamiyan, the caves have become the target of purposeful desecration. In the seventeenth century, Auragzeb a Mughal Emperor of India used the larger Buddha as a target for firing his cannon, which caused damage from the knees down. In our own time, the faces of the two Buddhas have been destroyed and both sets of hands broken off. Most recently, anti-government military groups in Afghanistan’s civil war have used caves as barracks and powder magazines. In September of 1998, a renegade Taliban commander blew off the head of the smaller Buddha using dynamite. He also fired rocks at the large Buddha’s groin, damaging the folds of the statues dress.

On March 2, 2001 the Islamic Taliban militia began the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas. They used anti-aircraft fire, rocks, cannons, tanks and motor shells to blast the Buddhas. It took three separate blasts to destroy the larger Buddha. They first blew up the legs, then the head, and finally the torso. The entire operation took two weeks to complete. The reasons the Taliban decided the destroy these ancient statues came from their iconoclasm,, which goes in line with Islamic law. In July of 1999, Omar issued a decree that said the Bamiyan Buddhas should be preserved. They were, he pointed out, no Buddhist left in Afghanistan to worship them, but he added, “The government considers the Bamiyan statues as an example of a potential major source of income for Afghanistan from international visitor. The Taliban states that Bamiyan shall not be destroyed but protected.” What caused the Taliban government’s attitude to change was prompted a month before the Buddhas were destroyed. When a visiting delegation of mostly European envoys and representatives of the United Nations Education, and Cultural Organization (Uneco) offered money to protect the giant standing Buddhas, while millions of Afghans faced starvation. The reasoning can be summed up by the Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbafi who said, “I am now convinced that the Buddhist statues were not demolished. They crumbled to pieces out of shame, because of the West’s indifference toward Afghanistan.” This resentment the Taliban’s felt toward the West pushed Omar to issue a decree that the destruction of the Buddhas were “irreversible.” This statement was met with outrage from leaders around the world. On March 2, 2001 the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas began and two weeks later they were completely obliterated.

To be rebuilt or not?

Those in favor argue that, if the Buddhas were to be rebuilt then it would bring back tourism the Bamiyan Valley. The reconstruction would be good for the economy, bring jobs, and eventually tourism. However, the cost of such a project has been estimated at $30 million dollars per Buddha, money the Afghan government does not have. Those opposed to reconstruction argue, rebuilding the Buddhas is unpractical, and additionally it would destroy the full history of what happened to the Buddhas.

The Eight Wonder of the World:

In addition to the reconstruction of the Bamiyan Buddha, archaeologist Zemaryali Tarzi of Strasbourg University has been on the search for the missing Buddha described in the journals of Xuanzang. Tarzi says there is a third statue believed to be 1000 feet long, known as the Sleeping Buddha, shown in a reclining position. He says, “I believe the writings of Xuanzang indicated that it is east or south-east of the smaller Buddha on the site of a former monastery.” Tarzi believes that Xuanzang’s journal is reliable, as it gives the exact measurements of the two destroyed Buddhas. It is believed to be clay, which would slowly fragment over the centuries. But Tarzi hopes to find enough fragments and some of the foundation to reconstruct the statue. In ?? a 62 foot statue in a sleeping position, which dates back to the third century was found. This newly fund statue has been badly damaged, but some parts of it, such as the neck and right hand remain in good condition. These latest finding give hope to archaeologist to find the 1000 foot Reclining Buddha. If this giant statue was to be found it would bring enormous press, business, and tourism to Bamiyan as well as add on to the story of the Bamiyan Buddhas. It ahs already been deemed the eighth wonder of the world upon its discover. ‘

First Oil Paintings:

The wall paintings at Bamiyan combined fresco painting with sculpted secco forms marking the introduction of a mixed-media tradition. This novel experimentation of paining was not the only kind at Bamiyan. A team from the European Synchrontron Radiation Facility in Grenoble has analyzed these ancient paintings and discovered that in 12 of the caves painted in the seventh century were created using oil paint. The oil paint was derived possibly from walnuts or the poppies which grew in the area. Before this discovery it was believed oil painting in Europe some six centuries after.