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The Nehru Memorial Museum & Library


‘Gandhi and the Politics of the Image’, 23rd March, 2015.


‘Gandhi and the Politics of the Image’


Prof. Vinay Lal,
University of California,
Los Angeles, USA.


There is but no question that Mohandas Gandhi remains, more than six decades after his assassination, the most iconic figure of modern India. He is hence known as Gandhiji or the Mahatma. Indeed, he is the only ‘secular’ figure around whom a distinct and complex iconography began to develop in his own lifetime. Gandhi has been a blessing to cartoonists; and most major Indian artists over the course of the last half-century have engaged with him in their work. In this talk, the speaker shall examine the life and work of Gandhi in the light of various forms of visual representation, from cartoons and public statues to paintings and nationalist prints, and suggest what kind of insights we might be able to derive from a study of these images. We can speak, for example, of ‘the martyred Gandhi’, ‘the walking Gandhi’, ‘the seated Gandhi’, the framed Gandhi’, and so on. Taking our cues, for example, from ‘the sartorial Gandhi’, we may well ask what images of him in various states of dress and undress tell us about Gandhi’s ambition to reduce his life to zero. Locating Gandhi within multiple and varied histories, this talk will offer both some general cues on how to interpret images of Gandhi as well as more detailed readings of a few images.


Prof. Vinay Lal is Professor of History at the University of California, Los Angeles, USA. His fourteen authored and edited books include the two-volume Oxford Anthology of the Modern Indian City (2013); Deewaar: The Footpath, the City, and the Angry Young Man (2011); Political Hinduism (2009); Of Cricket, Guinness and Gandhi (2005); The History of History (2003); and three books co-edited with Ashis Nandy. His work has been translated into Hindi, Urdu, Kannada, French, German, Spanish, Finnish, Korean, and Persian.

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