Modernism and the Art of Muslim South Asia

By Iftikhar Dadi

360 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 28 color and 78 b&w illus., notes, bibl., index

Not for Sale in South Asia

  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-9596-2
    Published: May 2010
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-8395-7
    Published: May 2010

Islamic Civilization and Muslim Networks

Buy this Book

For Professors:
Free E-Exam Copies

To purchase online via an independent bookstore, visit

Awards & distinctions

2010 American Institute of Pakistan Studies Junior Book Prize

This pioneering work traces the emergence of the modern and contemporary art of Muslim South Asia in relation to transnational modernism and in light of the region's intellectual, cultural, and political developments.

Art historian Iftikhar Dadi here explores the art and writings of major artists, men and women, ranging from the late colonial period to the era of independence and beyond. He looks at the stunningly diverse artistic production of key artists associated with Pakistan, including Abdur Rahman Chughtai, Zainul Abedin, Shakir Ali, Zubeida Agha, Sadequain, Rasheed Araeen, and Naiza Khan. Dadi shows how, beginning in the 1920s, these artists addressed the challenges of modernity by translating historical and contemporary intellectual conceptions into their work, reworking traditional approaches to the classical Islamic arts, and engaging the modernist approach towards subjective individuality in artistic expression. In the process, they dramatically reconfigured the visual arts of the region. By the 1930s, these artists had embarked on a sustained engagement with international modernism in a context of dizzying social and political change that included decolonization, the rise of mass media, and developments following the national independence of India and Pakistan in 1947.

Bringing new insights to such concepts as nationalism, modernism, cosmopolitanism, and tradition, Dadi underscores the powerful impact of transnationalism during this period and highlights the artists' growing embrace of modernist and contemporary artistic practice in order to address the challenges of the present era.

About the Author

Iftikhar Dadi is assistant professor in the Department of History of Art at Cornell University.
For more information about Iftikhar Dadi, visit the Author Page.


"A pick for college-level holdings surveying South Asian culture and art and for Muslim history holdings alike. . . . Makes for an excellent in-depth, college-level analysis."--Midwest Book Review

“Dadi’s analysis is complex, impressively documented, and richly illustrated . . . . [An] enlightening book that anyone interested in the many varieties of modern Muslim culture should read.”--Journal of Asian Studies

“An important contribution to a field of scholarship which is in need of urgent attention. . . . This sensitive, wide-reaching and well-informed account offers significant insights into the nature of modern or avant-garde praxis outside the West.”--Modern Art Asia

“A challenging and enlightening book that anyone interested in the many varieties of modern Muslim culture should read.”--Journal of Asian Studies

“Makes a crucial addition to the growing field of scholarship on global modernism, not only by explicating the work of understudied artists but by simultaneously reevaluating the terms in which modernism can be described and asserting their continuing importance to the practice of contemporary art.”--CAA Reviews

“Dadi’s work challenges us to acknowledge the complexities of modernism as a global phenomenon. . . As much as Dadi’s text provides us with a compelling history of modernism in Pakistan, the questions that he raises have reverberations far beyond the sites he examines.”--Art Journal