Above: “Sartorial Gandhi” image showing his garb at different life stages
There is but no question that Mohandas Gandhi remains, more than six decades after his assassination, the most iconic figure of modern India. Indeed, he is the only “secular” figure around whom a distinct and complex iconography began to develop in his own lifetime. Gandhi has been a blessing to cartoonists; and most major Indian artists over the course of the last half-century have engaged with him in their work.
In this talk, I shall examine the life and work of Gandhi in the light of various forms of visual representation, from cartoons and public statues to paintings and nationalist prints, and suggest what kind of insights we might be able to derive from a study of these images. We can speak, for example, of “the martyred Gandhi,” “the walking Gandhi,” “the seated Gandhi,” the framed Gandhi,” and so on. Taking our cues, for example, from “the sartorial Gandhi,” we may well ask what images of him in various states of dress and undress tell us about Gandhi’s ambition to reduce his life to zero.
Locating Gandhi within multiple and varied histories, this talk will offer both some general cues on how to interpret images of Gandhi as well as more detailed readings of a few images.
Vinay Lal is a professor of History at UCLA and author of numerous articles and blog posts on Gandhi and Gandhian subjects. He contributed several essays and images to the Menil’s book Experiments with Truth: Gandhi and Images of Nonviolence.