The Secular Icon: Secularist Practice and Indian Visual Culture



Since the 1980s, modernist artists, like much of India's secular intelligentsia, have struggled to understand the nature of the threat that Hindu nationalism poses to more inclusive forms of national culture. Visual culture, and particularly Hindu iconography, was perhaps the form most obviously targeted by Hindu nationalist political practices. Artist and writer K. G. Subramanyan has been the most influential articulator of a secularist form of visual culture. A semiotic analysis of Subramanyan's modernist versions of Hindu icons not only explicates his model but also shows how his images facilitate a social interaction between artist and viewer that can be seen as a practice of secularism in everyday life. By studying secular forms of visual culture as social practice, this article contributes to the anthropology of secularism without reducing visual culture to a mere reflection of political ideology.