By Janice Nesamani
Northwest Asian Weekly
A collection of art, culture, music, and history peppered with lectures on varied topics, is set to give people a taste of South Asia.
Enter the North Wing of the Allen Library at the University of Washington (UW) and you will be hit by the history, music, and color of South Asia. A small collection of display cases will give you a taste of the art, movies, embroidery, and jewelry from India and neighboring countries in the southern part of the continent.
Deepa Banerjee, a librarian with the Department of South Asian Studies at the UW for 11 years, is responsible for the exhibition. Banerjee works to help build the university’s South Asian collection and usually helps faculty and students with research material they need. UW’s South Asian collection is a nationally important collection in conjunction with the South Asian program that currently provides support to students and faculty of the Henry M. Jackson Institute of International Studies, as well as those researching topics in South Asia for interdisciplinary courses.
While she spoke to a South Asian author recently, Banerjee felt the need to publicize the treasure trove of books, documents, and artifacts she gathered painstakingly through travels overseas and with the help of university grants.
And that’s how the idea of the exhibition — South Asia: Images, Art, and Scholarship — was born. It will be held through Oct. 31 and is open to the public.
A trained classical singer and music aficionado, Banerjee sourced a collection of miniature classical Indian musical instruments that are on display along with a striking sculpture from Jaisalmer that shows Lord Krishna playing the flute. “It is part of a friend’s collection of idols. The inclusion of the Baburnama and a timeline of the Mughal rule, along with art during the era, make for an interesting look, as does the informative inclusion of India’s first uprising against the British colonial rule in the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857,” she said. To season the display with healthy discourse, Banerjee has organized a series of talks by artists and experts in the field of South Asian history, art, and culture.
“We had noted author and artist Devdutt Pattanaik talk about the meaning of Hindu mythology and explore its relevance in the world and society we live in today. We saw quite a healthy audience of about 90 members, and I hope that continues through the talks we have scheduled,” Banerjee said.
One of the more interesting talks will be held on Oct. 24, with Seattle-based artist and trustee of the Henry Art Gallery Don Fels. It discusses Asia’s first Nobel laureate, writer, poet, and artist Rabindranath Tagore’s visit to Seattle in September 1916. Almost 100 years ago!
Fels, who has spent a significant amount of time in India over the past 15 years, said he felt he had to commemorate the event. “My interest isn’t just to say, ‘Oh wow, he came here,’ but to try and imagine India and Seattle then, and compare that with the two places now. Until very recently, the Pacific Northwest had very few South Asian residents, now there are tens of thousands. I contemplate what this might mean for the Northwest and for the people themselves.”
An interesting aspect that Fels brings up is that while Tagore’s visit in 1916 made front page news in Seattle, he was traveling from Calcutta, which is approximately the size of Seattle, but was incredibly more cultured and literary at the time. “In comparison, Seattle was just coming out of its pioneer phase with hills being knocked down and sluiced into the bay. It was more or less a mess! Tagore was decidedly not a mess — a tall, regal, even saintly looking man.
It must have been quite the contrast. He was highly educated and accomplished, Seattle was not,” Fels opined. As a visual artist himself, Fels will look at the striking ‘god-like’ visual persona that Tagore had, his paintings, and the images of Calcutta and Seattle.
Fels’ talk will be followed by a discussion led by Rekha Sood of the Seattle Art Museum on her experience while working on the exhibit “City Dwellers: Contemporary Art from India” on Oct. 25. The following day, Sonia Khullar from the UW will discuss the shifts in South Asian Art and the challenge this brings in research methods and teaching for academics. Another interesting session by Alka Kurien on Oct. 27 will look at gender representation in Indian cinema. The series of talks close with Seattle-based South Asian writer Bharti Kirchner, who will discuss her books and her journey as an immigrant to an author on Oct. 31.
- Mughal Empire: Important historical documents such as the Baburnama and the entire timeline of the Mughal rulers.
- Epics and Scriptures: Important scriptures such as the Ramayana and Gita with idols of Lord Ganesha, Goddess Parvathi, and Lord Krishna.
- Special Collections: Images that portray the different aspects of daily life in India.
Janice can be reached at email@example.com.