Kajri Jain (On Leave)

Kajri Jain

Associate Professor of Indian Visual Culture and Contemporary Art

Undergraduate Appointment: Department of Visual Studies (UTM)
Graduate Appointment: Department of Art (St. George)
Cross-appointments and affiliations: Institute for Cinema Studies, Centre for South Asian Studies


CCT 3053, UTM


PhD, Art History and Theory, University of Sydney
MA, Art History and Theory, University of Sydney
PEP, Visual Communication, National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad


I am interested in how the efficacies, affects and values associated with images arise not only from what goes on within the picture-frame but also from the production, circulation and deployments of images as material objects. I therefore find it useful to bring ethnographic sensibilities and methods to ‘visual’ studies. My work on popular images in modern and contemporary India encompasses the bazaar icons known as calendar art; monumental statues; theme parks; and representations of "nature" in temples, gardens, zoos and popular cinema. It has largely focused on a vernacular business ethos where religion has been the primary site for adopting new media and expressive techniques. The unfinished business between images, religion, politics and commerce troubles the 'provincial' legacies of European Romanticism and secular modernism that underpin much of our thinking about the aesthetic. So while my teaching is often based on South Asian materialsmy courses take a postcolonial/decolonizing and transcultural approach to interrogating the disciplinary assumptions of art history, cinema studies and visual studies. These critical perspectives also inform my writing on contemporary art in India and elsewhere.

Current Research Projects

My forthcoming book on the emergence of gigantic iconic statues in India after the neoliberal economic reforms of the 1990s extends my interests in the efficacies of circulation, the aesthetics of modern religion, and vernacular capitalism to their interface with material infrastructures (highways, the automotive industry, dams), domestic tourism, landscape/'nature,' governmentality and democracy (particularly the politics of caste). 

In my current research project, supported by a SSHRC Insight Grant, I ask what vernacular images and spaces in India might tell us about how ideas of 'nature' are mobilized in the post-reform Indian public sphere. What can these sites tell us about about aesthetic or moral-ethical values that sit in tension with modern artistic traditions predicated on our separation from nature and the sublimation of the sacred into art? What happens to nature in an expressive context where where religious images are still efficacious, and where Romanticism arrived with colonialism rather than responding directly to the Industrial Revolution?

Courses Taught


FAH 492 The Nature of Landscape
FAH 385 Contemporary Art of South Asia
FAH 494 Icon/Artwork/Fetish
CIN 215 Bollywood in Context
VCC 306 Visual Culture and Colonialism
VCC 490 Topics: Animals in Visual Culture; The Visual Culture of the Automobile; Visual Culture and Posthumanism
VCC 101 Introduction to Visual Culture


FAH 1489 Re:Vision - Comparative Histories of the Senses
FAH 1471 The Aesthetics of Democracy
FAH 1464 The Recalcitrant Icon
FAH 1482 The Time of Art History
FAH 1481 Automotive Affects
FAH 1490 Art and Intersubjectivity
FAH 1910 Contemporary Art of South Asia and its Diaspora

Select Publications


Gods in the Time of Democracy, Durham: Duke University Press, forthcoming 2021.

Gods in the Bazaar: The Economies of Indian ‘Calendar Art’Durham: Duke University Press, 2007.


Response to questionnaire on “Decolonizing Art History,” Art History, Volume 43, Issue 1, 2020, pp. 28-30. 

Media,” invited essay for online series “A Universe of Terms,” ed. Mona Oraby and Daniel Vaca, for Social Science Research Council digital publication The Immanent Frame: Secularism, Religion, and the Public Sphere, Feb. 14, 2020.

Le Mal Des Fleurs,” invited essay for online forum on “Rethinking Public Religion: Word, Image, Sound,” ed. Mona Oraby and Matthew Engelke, for Social Science Research Council digital publication The Immanent Frame: Secularism, Religion, and the Public Sphere, May 16, 2019.

Reconfiguring India’s Nationalism, One Grand Statue at a Time,” The Wire (independent Indian online news journal), 31 October, 2018.

‘Partition as Partage’, Third Text (special issue To Draw the Line: Partitions, Dissonance, Art: A Case for South Asia, ed. Natasha Eaton and Alice Correia), 145-146, March-May 2017, pp. 187-203.

‘Tales from the Concrete Cave: Delhi’s Birla Temple and the Genealogies of Urban Nature in India’, Places of Nature in Ecologies of Urbanism, ed. Anne Rademacher and K. Sivaramakrishnan, Hong Kong: University of Hong Kong Press, 2017, pp. 108-136.

Gods in the Time of Automobility’, Current Anthropology (special issue on New Media, New Publics?), Volume 58, Supplement 15, 2017, pp. S13-S26.

‘Whose Emergency?’, Art History and Emergency: Crises in the Visual Arts and HumanitiesCrises in the Visual Arts and Humanities (Clark Studies in the Visual Arts), Williamstown, Massachusetts: Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016, pp. 12-22.

‘Post-Reform India’s Automotive-Iconic-Cement Assemblages: Uneven Globality, Spectacle, and Iconic Exhibition Value’, special issue on Aesthetics of Arrival: Spectacle, Capital, Novelty in Post-reform India, ed. TB Hansen and Ravinder Kaur, Identities: Global Studies in Culture and PowerVolume 23Issue 3, 2016, doi: 10.1080/1070289X.2015.1034132.

Monuments, Landscapes and Romance in Indian Popular Imagery’, in Visual Homes, Image Worlds: Essays from Tasveer Ghar, ed. Sumathi Ramaswamy and Christiane Brosius, New Delhi: Yoda Press, 2015, pp. 87-97.

‘The Handbag That Exploded: Mayawati’s Monuments and the Aesthetics of Democracy in Post-Reform India’, in Tapati Guha Thakurta, Partha Chatterjee and Bodhisattva Kar (eds.), New Cultural Histories of India, Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2014, pp. 139-179.

"Pause" in Simryn Gill: Here Art Grows on Trees, ed. Catherine de Zegher, Ghent: MER/Paper Kunsthalle, 2013.

‘Mass-Reproduction and the Art of the Bazaar’, Cambridge Companion to Modern Indian Culture, ed. Vasudha Dalmia and Rashmi Sadana, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012, pp. 184-205.

‘Divine Mass-Reproduction’, Medium Religion, ed. Peter Weibel and Boris Groys, Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie, Karlsruhe, 2011, pp. 142-154.

‘Taking and Making Offence: Husain and the Politics of Desecration’, in Sumathi Ramaswamy (ed.), Barefoot across the Nation: Maqbool Fida Husain and the Idea of India, London: Routledge, 2011, pp.198-212.


Centre for South Asian Studies