Appointed As

History and Anthropology


ACLS Emerging Voices Fellowships program


Johns Hopkins University

PhD Field of Study

PhD, Art History and Visual Studies, Cornell University

Dissertation Abstract

"Fugitive Abstraction: Zarina, Mohamedi, and Lala Rukh"

My dissertation attends to the important but largely unexamined history of abstraction across post-independence South Asia during the second half of the twentieth century. The dissertation focuses on a loose constellation of artists on whom little scholarship exists—Zarina (1937-2020), Nasreen Mohamedi (1937-1990), and Lala Rukh (1948-2017)—women who were working across postcolonial South Asia, the western Indian Ocean, and its diaspora. Fugitive Abstraction: Zarina, Mohamedi and Lala Rukh investigates the artists’ shared approach to aesthetic form that links the traumatic partition of the Indian subcontinent with decolonization and the diasporic dislocations that resulted, foregrounding themes of gender and sexuality, migration, and citizenship. Rather than situate these artists within Euro-American postwar abstraction, a category they are often subsumed under, I demonstrate how these artists negotiated the fraught inheritance of colonial modernism by reframing early modern art and architectural aesthetics as a site of postcolonial feminist reclamation. These artists drew indigenous aesthetics together with postwar, process-based material experiments in photo-montage, collage, printmaking, drawing and sculpture. “Fugitive” in the dissertation title, brings the methodologies of Black studies together with subaltern studies, and feminist thought to supplement the blindspots of postcolonial studies regarding race, non-national belonging and sexual difference. Ultimately I argue that these underrepresented women artists refused the territorial boundaries of the postcolonial nation-states of India and Pakistan, offering us an example of migratory aesthetics that precede discourses of globalization in the 1990s and the concurrent rise of majoritarian nationalism and communal violence across South Asia.