“A POLYMORPHIC LEGACY:”AN INTRODUCTION TO THE PHILOSOPHY AND ART OF K. G. SUBRAMANYAN Margaret Richardson
Christopher Newport University How do contemporary artists meaningfully negotiate the many images and influences at their disposal in today’s global age? Furthermore, how can scholars and audiences better understand contemporary art from cultural contexts outside of their own? Are there universal standards and terms that can be used to discuss global contemporary art? Indian artist, teacher, and theorist K.G. Subramanyan (b. 1924) has spent his career raising and addressing these and related questions in the context of modern India, formulating an aesthetic philosophy and art practice that respond to the predicaments of our times.
This essay introduces Subramanyan’s philosophy, highlighting some of the key terms and concepts he has proposed since the 1960s.1 Concerned with both local and global experiences, Subramanyan has used the apropos word, “polymorphic”-- having many forms--to characterize his philosophy and art practice as well as contemporary culture at large.2 India’s complex history has been shaped by many cultural interactions and outside forms that have been introduced, imposed, and adapted to extant traditions. It is also engaged with a larger world that is increasingly interconnected by global commerce, conflict, and digital technologies. Acknowledging and embracing this situation, Subramanyan proposes ways to address these many forms in his art in a meaningful manner. The aesthetic philosophy underlying his art has likewise been shaped by the many forms that constitute modern India and contemporary life. Articulating his views on modernism, eclecticism, an art language, and a living tradition, Subramanyan has reformulated a vocabulary with which to talk about contemporary art in India and beyond, and he reflects these ideas in his diverse oeuvre. These terms articulate his polymorphic practices and views, offering a theoretical framework and practical methods that can be used to negotiate the many forms confronting contemporary artists today. Subramanyan’s ideas have global significance as they raise some fundamental issues about creating meaningful and relevant contemporary art.