A scholar, curator and critic, Geeta Kapur is recognised for her critical writing on modern and contemporary art in India, spanning books, artist monographs, exhibition catalogues and essays incorporating film and cultural theory. Previously one of the founder-editors of the Delhi-based Journal of Arts and Ideas (1983) and member of the advisory council for Third Text, Kapur is now on the advisory board of ArtMargins and serves as an advisory editor and trustee for The Marg Foundation. Much of Kapur’s interests in art history emerged through academic study while also being informed by her exposure to the works of artists and critics, in India and abroad.
After completing her bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Delhi, she pursued a master’s degree in art from New York University. Here she was introduced to the culture of art criticism through her professors and the debates in her circles which included Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg. While pursuing a master’s degree in art criticism from the Royal College of Art, London, she was inspired by the author-critic John Berger and steered by her academic mentor towards postcolonial theory and Marxism. She developed her academic identity and voice in the aftermath of the Emergency (1975–77) when she returned to Delhi and its informal intellectual spaces. Subsequently, through the initiation of the Journal of Art and Ideas, she confronted the prevailing critical and art historical discourse in India. She taught at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi, between 1967 and 1973. Since then she has held visiting fellowships in institutions such as, Clare Hall, University of Cambridge, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi and the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla.
Interested in marxist traditions in Indian art-historical discourse as well as dialogues around the avant-garde abroad, Kapur’s practice does not locate itself in a place, institution, trend and format, eschewing identification and affiliation. Her approach to art historiography rejects notions of belonging (genetic, civilisational and evolutionary), cultural heredity and master narratives in history-making — she envisions the past as dynamic rather than static. Kapur’s writing and scholarship deals primarily with challenges of negotiating colonial history, the tensions between the Western canon and non-Western Modernism, the postcolonial framework for the nation in India and South Asia, developing-world perspectives of internationalism and the influences of leftist praxis on the relationship between art theory and practice. Therefore, her work provides critical insights into the possibilities of contemporary art in the ever-evolving socioeconomic landscapes of the subcontinent. An important contribution towards this is her book When was Modernism: Essays on Contemporary Cultural Practice in India (2000). Some of her other pivotal works are Contemporary Art in Asia: Traditions, Tensions (1997); Cautionary Tales: Critical Curating (2007) and Critical Opinions in Art Practice (2009).
In her capacity as a curator and art critic, Kapur has served as a jury member for the Venice Biennale, Italy (2005), the Dakar Biennale, Senegal (2006) and the Sharjah Biennale, UAE (2007). She has also served as a member of the Asian Arts Council at the Guggenheim Museum in New York (2007–09; 2014), and has been an advisory member at the Asia Art Archive (AAA), Hong Kong, since 2009. Her notable exhibitions include Pictorial Space (1977) at Rabindra Bhavan, New Delhi; Contemporary Indian Painting (with Richard Bartholomew and Akbar Padamsee, 1982) at the Royal Academy of Arts, London; Hundred Years: From the NGMA Collection in New Delhi (1994); ‘Dispossession’ in Africus (with Shireen Gandhy, 1995) at Johannesburg Biennale RSA; Century Art: Art and Culture in the Modern Metropolis (with Ashish Rajadhyaksha, 2001) at the Tate Modern, London ; subTerrain: Artworks in the Cityfold (2003) at Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin; and Aesthetic Bind: Citizen Artist: Forms of Address (2013–14) at Chemould Prescott Road, Mumbai.
In 2009, Kapur was conferred the Padma Shri by the Government of India. Two years later, Kapur, along with her husband, the artist Vivan Sundaram, worked with AAA to digitise their entire collection of manuscripts, consisting of essays on modern and contemporary Indian art, catalogues and writings on significant exhibitions artworks, and exclusive documentation of the Kasauli Art Centre, Himachal Pradesh.
At the time of writing, Kapur lives and works in Delhi.
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