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In 2008, the works of the Bengali artist Nandalal Bose (1882-1966) enjoyed a rare North American museum tour, first at the San Diego Museum of Art and then at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In this first major international excursion, Bose‟s works were celebrated as an exemplar of the new modern visual language adopted by nationalist artists as they rejected Europeanized academic techniques in vogue around the turn of the twentieth century. Along with stalwarts like Abanindranath Tagore, Asit Haldar and Kshitindranath Majumdar, the ‘swadeshi’ (indigenous) artists marked an emphatic turn to revive an „Indian‟ aesthetic that has been seen to direct the course of modern Indian art since the early twentieth century.

However, despite the persistence of this celebratory narrative, one key aspect of swadeshi nationalist politics that has remained unexplored is the distinctive slender body their art authorised. Rejecting both the ample full-figured body enshrined in classical literature and the anatomically accurate body sanctioned by colonial art education, the swadeshi artists proposed an alternative lissome figure whose delicate frame and shadowy presence formed the centrepiece of their art. Swadeshi claims for a modern Indian art were embodied in and through this figure that made alternative claims on the Indian body politic contesting colonial power as well as scriptural authority.

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This is an author-produced, peer-reviewed version of this article. The final, definitive version of this document can be found online at Oxford Art Journal, published by Oxford Journals. Copyright restrictions may apply. DOI: 10.1093/oxartj/kcq013

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