Odisha born art historian making efforts for cultural bridge between USA and India

9/07/2020 at 11:44 AM

Delhi based Odia art historian Dr. Rajashree Biswal, is continuing her postdoctoral research in visual studies at University of California San Diego under the Fulbright-Nehru Fellowship programme.

Dr. Biswal is currently doing a study of contemporary community-based art in the USA and India.

It had been an unusual and creative journey for Dr. Biswal to reach to this point. Hailing from the culturally rich and the tribal district of Mayurbhanj in the state of Odisha, she started her professional education as an agricultural engineer. Her deep proclivity to be associated with the underprivileged community made her to work with the indigenous women in Madhya Pradesh and Odisha in the grassroots for a few years. Later, a dramatic shift came in her life when her cultural experiences and inclinations made her join the Master of Visual Arts programme [in Art history and Aesthetics] at the premium institution of M.S. University, Vadodara in 2004. Her experience of working with the underprivileged indigenous community prompted her to explore her socio-political concerns in the domain of visual arts. She researched the emerging form of contemporary community-based art practice or the interventionist form of community art practice in India earning a Ph. D. degree in this area from the premier institution of Jawaharlal Nehru University which was highly appreciated by the University of Washington, Seattle.  

Dr. Biswal is of the belief that contemporary art can address and engage with the intricate and multifaceted issues of life in the contemporary globalizing world. This conviction impelled her to venture into multifarious activities related to visual arts like research, publication, curatorial engagement as well as art education since last eighteen years. Her strong research interest was recognized through prestigious awards and fellowships like the UGC Postdoctoral Fellowship, New Delhi; ICSSR Postdoctoral and Doctoral Fellowship, New Delhi; Charles Wallace India Trust Research Visit Grant Award, London; Junior Fellowships from Ministry of Culture (Sociology of Culture), New Delhi; and a Junior Fellowship from Forum on Contemporary Theory, Vadodara.  Dr. Biswal has extensively published in national and international journals, books and art magazines. Furthermore, she has edited a national level art magazine ART FAIR- A Magazine of Contemporary Visual Culture which was the matized on ‘installation art in India’ in two volumes. Her forthcoming book is titled Politics and Aesthetics of Contemporary Community Based art in India in the post 1990s.

Contemporary art, in order to perform its social function in true sense, needs to reach to the wider audience beyond the art world- this is the belief of Dr. Biswal which made her conceptualize and curate a number of art exhibitions addressing the gap between the viewers/audience and the art works e.g. Vortex (2003) in Mumbai, the traveling exhibition Towards a New Viewership and Audience in Bhubaneswar and Delhi (2008-2009), Contemporary Art, Viewership and Meaning (2017) in Bhubaneswar and the likes.

She further emphasizes on the need of a visual cultural literacy and sensitiveness towards local culture and values among the younger generation for a better future. She has co-initiated New Bridge India, a cultural initiative with Birendra Pani to address the gap between different systems, institutions, community to create a new form of cultural awareness through art. She envisions ‘reproduction aesthetics’- or reproducing the original art works through digital medium which can be an important method to reach out to a larger audience. In order to reach out to diverse kinds of publics through art, she curated Revision- Relationship, interweaving the parallel literary and visual journey of poet Jayanta Mahapatra and artist Birendra Pani at Ravenshaw University in 2015. Her conceptualization and curation had transformed the seminar hall of the North Orissa University into a gallery space in 2016. Her curation New Bridge Video Art Film Festival (2019) in the remote Khalikote Art College in Odisha addressed the lacunae in art education institution in non-metro space.   

Presently, Dr. Biswal is exploring the interventionist public and community-based art by various artists and cultural initiatives in the USA. Recently, she presented the paper titled Gender, Art and Identity: A perspective from Odisha discussing about how the question of gender has been addressed in the domain of traditional and contemporary art in Odisha at the Odisha Society of America women’s forum. She is envisioning to strengthen the link between the USA and India through various cultural activities.

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