Vivan Sundaram: History Project
a site-specific installation, Victoria Memorial, Calcutta, 1998
Foreword by Homi K. Bhabha
Vivan Sundaram: History Project is a close reading of the first site-specific, architectural-scale installation staged in India. An innovative artist, Vivan Sundaram works with a range of materials, mediums and structural forms. His History Project (1998), marking fifty years of Indian independence, was staged as a complex installation in the grand Durbar Hall of the Victoria Memorial and Museum, a much visited public institution in Calcutta. Sundaram’s choice of setting was by way of a challenge: to ‘occupy’ an imperial edifice and change its orientation; to reflect upon India’s struggle for independence and the emerging nation’s stake in modernity; to engage with post-colonial contradictions through recursive narration. The project needed to be scaled to the proportion and significance of these issues. This book, produced nearly twenty years after the installation was mounted and dismantled, examines how Sundaram conceived of this intervention, how his ideological perspective, the genres and modes he deployed, enlarged the parameters of art practice in India, and how this can be situated within a critical framework of aesthetics and politics today. The book has essays contributed by distinguished cultural theorists and art historians. Its last section reproduces pages from the artist’s notebook and correspondence relating to the realization of the project. There are a large number of annotated images of the artworks cross-referenced with shots from the accompanying video, Structures of Memory, and the itinerary of the multipart installation is recalled in the layout of the book.