Re-thinking Through Materials: A move towards Material Literacy through the Practice of Ramkinkar Baij and Mrinalini Mukherjee


Since the twentieth century, artists around the world have experimented with myriad materials and techniques. However, the dominant mind/matter dichotomy in antique philosophy has degenerated the role of material as passive matter, and this intrinsically hierarchical model has been echoed since the Aristotelian era. The scholars failed to challenge art history’s disciplinary boundaries due to the lack of correspondence with artists’ creative process. The study investigates the artistic process, taking into account the effect of physical properties and social connotations of materials in order to fully grasp the meaning of an artwork. The essay critically analyses material sensibility in the practice of twentieth-century Indian artists Ramkinkar Baij and Mrinalini Mukherjee. The study proposes that, firstly, rather than analyzing the finished artworks, an understanding of the process and experience of the artists contribute to “material literacy” and in turn a nuanced understanding of the artwork; secondly, materials and the process of making influence the artwork and the artistic style; and thirdly, contextually grounded reading of the artist’s material and process gives a holistic understanding of the artworks. The study adopts the methodology of narrative analysis to understand the embodied experience and the creative process of the artists. The article purposely chooses the two exponents of Indian art whose works have been discussed in great lengths; however, the marginalized discussion of materials overlooked an essential narrative. Furthermore, the choice of deceased artists as case studies lays radical potential of archival data and raises new methodological opportunities for investigating the phenomenological experiences.


Tanvi Jain
Student, Ph.D., Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, India

Shatarupa Thakurta Roy
Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Kanpur


Presentation Type

Paper Presentation in a Themed Session


2023 Special Focus—New Agendas for Design: Principles of Scale, Practices of Inclusion


Art Materials, Material Agency, Material Literacy, Embodied Phenomenological Experience

Digital Media


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