Productive failure

Writing queer transnational South Asian art histories

Alpesh Kantilal Patel
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According to the author, queer as an identification and subjectivity is important to his writing of transnational South Asian art histories. This book talks about new transnational South Asian art histories, to make visible histories of artworks that remain marginalised within the discipline of art history. This is done through a deliberate 'productive failure', by not upholding the strictly genealogical approach. The book discusses authorship by examining the writing about the work of Anish Kapoor to explore the shifting manner in which critics and art historians have identified him and his work. It focuses on the author's own identification as queer and South Asian American to put pressure on the coherency of an LGBTQI art history. It connects formal similarities of abstract work produced in the 1960s in New York City by Cy Twombly and Natvar Bhavsar. The book deals with an art history that concerns facile categories such as South Asian/non-South Asian and black/white, and discusses the works of Stephen Dean, Mario Pfeifer, Adrian Margaret Smith Piper, and Kehinde Wiley. It focuses on practice-led research by discussing 'Sphere:dreamz,; which was produced by queer-identified South Asian women. Continuing the focus, the book looks at the multi-site exhibition 'Mixing It Up: Queering Curry Mile and Currying Canal Street', organised by the author in 2007. It addresses the question of how certain subjects are considered as 'belonging' and others as not; and the role of art in the reconstitution of notions of 'home' and transnational South Asian art histories.

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‘…advances an original , rigorously self-reflexive, and provocative argument for the formulation of a New South Asian Art History conceived through the lens of queer theory and queer subjectivities.'
Margo Machida, Professor Emerita, University of Connecticut

‘In his provocative engagement with queer subjectivities, Patel's intervention does not only create new potentialities for the study of South Asian Art, but he also proposes an urgently needed reimagining of art historical methodology.'
Derek Conrad Murray
Associate Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art, University of California, Santa Cruz

‘Patel is a person through whose eyes one learns to see anew with one's own.'
Donald Preziosi, Distinguished Research Professor and Professor Emeritus, University of California, Los Angeles

‘Wide ranging in his historical and methodological investments, Patel is modelling a new kind of art history, notable less for temporal and/or geographical coherence than for its sophisticated critical approach.'
Jonathan D. Katz, Associate Professor, University at Buffalo, SUNY

‘Alpesh Kantilal Patel’s Productive Failure: Writing Queer Transnational South Asian Art Histories is a valuable contribution to this growing body of literature that attempts to expand the parameters of art history and its constituent subfields, employing “affirmative criticality” and “productive failure” as methods to produce a more ethical, entangled, and transparent practice of writing (art) history.
CAA Reviews

‘The book reads not only as a strong collection of unwritten narratives, but also as a critique of art history’s exclusion and tokenization of artists of South Asian descent. The organization of the book prepares the audience with theories to rethink their own understanding of the production of art histories. One of the strengths of the book is the intimacy of the narration. Patel is aware of the limited reach of his academic language and makes challenging theoretical discussions accessible through his use of tone, through which readers can feel as if they were having a casual conversation with a close friend. ’
Asian Diasporic Visual Cultures and the Americas
August 2020

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