The School of Arts and Aesthetics has a strong research profile that informs its teaching. Their innovative courses attract students from disciplines like art history, architecture, literature and the social sciences on the one hand and cinema and performance practitioners on the other hand who wish to engage with the theoretical and historical context of the arts. Its teaching fulfils research and employment needs within the wider domain of culture, media, Indian heritage and the arts. It is one of the few places in India that offers post-graduate degree courses in the theoretical and critical study of the cinematic, visual and performing arts. Moreover, it is the only place in India where these disciplines are offered in one integrated programme that allows students to understand the individual arts in relation to one another as well as in a broader context of history, sociology, politics, semiotics, gender and cultural studies. The three streams of study offered at the school are Visual Studies, Theatre and Performance Studies and Cinema Studies.
The pedagogic approach of the SAA recognises that it no longer suffices to study a work of art as an ‘object’ in isolation, apart from the social forces that shape and give it meaning. The teaching here adopts a multidisciplinary approach drawing on insights from the fields of anthropology, history, media and cultural studies. Students are introduced to a range of research methods that combine archival, ethnographic, theoretical and cultural approaches.
The School focuses on taught degree programmes. The faculty encourages students - and other interested persons - to take advantage of Delhi’s cultural riches by visiting exhibitions, theatre, film and music festivals. The School organises field trips to monuments and museums and to observe traditional theatre, music and dance practices across India. It has its own gallery space which it uses to mount exhibitions on contemporary and historical art curated by the students and faculty, while the School’s auditorium hosts a hectic schedule of lectures, film festivals and performances. And occasionally, the School is also involved in curating exhibitions and holding festivals of the cinematic and performing arts outside the campus in collaboration with other institutions in India.
The Visual Studies faculty offer courses on ancient and medieval Indian art and architecture, iconography, aesthetic theories, Mughal and Rajput painting, modern and contemporary art, and popular culture. These are taught together with courses that familiarise the students with the materials and methods of producing the visual arts and the history of the institutions that house, showcase and promote them. The arts in India, as anywhere in the world, are at one level the most visible manifestation of a culture, and on the other also at times, the least understood or even misunderstood. The success of the recent exhibitions held at the JNU’s art gallery has proved a unique way of bringing the highest degree of scholarship to the students as well as fulfilling a wider public outreach project.
Theatre and Performance Studies comprise studies of theatre, dance, music as well as other non- aesthetic performances like ritual, healing and public spectacles. In India countless forms of theatre, semi-theatre, and classical, folk and tribal dance and ritual are still alive and immensely popular. Their nature is not based on any strict antagonism between ‘classical’ and ‘folk’. Further, India’s shastric traditions also seem to percolate across regions and through levels of high and low culture. The current faculty in this area cover courses in the field of ancient, medieval and contemporary Indian theatre, while visiting faculty give instruction in the fields of the history of dance and music. The courses are designed in such a way as to foreground points of intersection theory & practice, performance and history, verbal and non-verbal dimensions. This also allows our courses to stress continuities across genres.
Cinema Studies is one of the most significant academic disciplines to have emerged internationally in the last few decades. This is not surprising, since the birth of the cinema transformed our sense of the world, and film has evolved both as a social institution and as the most powerful art form of the 20th century. As a subject, Cinema Studies is extremely interdisciplinary and it draws on the content and methods of literature, history, sociology, political science, anthropology, and economics among others.
India has been for half a century the world’s largest film producing country with an output in several different languages. Responding to local traditions of performance and representation, the Indian film industry has evolved a distinctive form and aesthetic. Today, Indian cinema is widely circulated outside the country to foreign audiences in Russia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America and the Indian diasporas. Indian cinema is the screen through which many parts of the world ‘see’ India. The introduction of Cinema Studies is a major academic addition to the programmes of the School.