School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi
A division of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) that offers postgraduate critical theory courses in art, performance and film history, School of Arts and Aesthetics (SAA) has gained a reputation for its MA, MPhil and PhD programmes that emphasise the cultural and socio-political position of art throughout history. The school was founded in 2001 and the faculty includes several notable scholars of Indian art, such as Jyotindra Jain, Kavita Singh, Ira Bhaskar, Naman Ahuja, Bishnupriya Dutt, Parul Dave Mukherji and Shukla Sawant.
Students enrolled in the master’s program are taught an integrated course in Visual Studies, Theatre and Performance Studies and Cinema Studies, while the students in the MPhil and PhD programmes can specialise in one of these. The Visual Studies programme covers ancient and contemporary art and architectural history, including mass media. Theatre and Performance Studies covers the history of dance, music and theatre from India as well as theories on performative traditions such as rituals. Cinema Studies takes a broad approach to the moving image: primarily film history and to a lesser extent television and popular video-sharing culture. Apart from classroom work, the SAA curriculum also organises film screenings, performances, visits to museums and galleries and field trips to different cities or sites of cultural significance. Notable figures in art and art scholarship who have delivered lectures and offered workshops at SAA include Geeta Kapur, Sudarshan Shetty, Griselda Pollock and Thierry de Duve. The school has a gallery space to host exhibitions and an auditorium for lectures, meetings and performances.
SAA, like other schools in JNU, has seen some controversy and friction between the students, teachers and administration since the appointment of the university’s ex-Vice-Chancellor (VC), M Jagadesh Kumar, in January 2016. The SAA faculty were outspoken critics of Kumar’s new policies as VC and criticised him for weakening JNU’s campus atmosphere of free discourse and political activity on behalf of the central government. A policy mandating 75% attendance for students, with strict penalties for both students and teachers, was instituted in December 2017, following which Kavita Singh (a vocal opponent of the policy) was removed from her position as dean of SAA in March 2018 on grounds of insubordination. A linguistics professor, Mazhar Asif, was appointed as her replacement but was boycotted by the students of SAA. Following an order from the Delhi High Court, Singh was reinstated as dean in April. Her term ended in 2019 and since then Naman Ahuja has held the post.
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