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Peabody Essex Museum celebrates Indian art
The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) continues to showcase a series of exhibition that reveal visual conversations between India’s contemporary and traditional artists. The world-renowned art institution just drew curtains on a riveting show, entitled ‘ReVisions: Indian Artists Engaging Traditions’. It presented 14 contemporary works along with traditional pieces, exemplifying the artists’ source of inspiration, including Mughal court painting, medieval temple sculpture and photography techniques.

The exhibition featured objects from its renowned Chester & Davida Herwitz Collection of 20th-century Indian art and holdings of traditional Indian art forms. These were juxtaposed with the Harvard Art Museum’s exceptional collection of art from India’s temples and royal courts. The Executive Director of the Museum, Dan Monroe stated, “It was a delightful experience for us to collaborate with Harvard on ReVisions. It was the perfect opportunity to draw upon remarkable collection of our sister institution as a complement to our own. The show enabled PEM to share the great depth and breadth of Indian art with our viewers,”

Works by Jogen Choudhury, Ravinder Reddy and other noteworthy artists were featured in the show co-curated by Susan Bean, curator of South Asian and Korean Art, PEM, and Kimberly Masteller. The duo brought to the fore how inspired by thousands of years of history, several renowned artists from India today draw upon local themes and techniques, while maintaining connections with the global art world. From without and within, the influence of many cultures and artistic practices can be perceived in their works.

Dynamic modern canvases and three-dimensional works mine the past for ideas about composition, color, subject and materials. For example, Jogen Choudhury playfully calls to a popular subject depicted in many styles from Rajput court art to vernacular Tanjore glass painting - the image of a lady of rank gazing at a flower. Intended to lend refinement to the subject, the figure contemplates natural beauty, or perhaps yearns for an absent lover. His ‘Waiting for Her Lover’ substitutes the traditionally lithesome figure with a robust woman of a certain age, gazing at a wilted blossom with as much romantic passion as any epic heroine.

Similarly, Ravinder Reddy’s ‘Shining Woman’ could be anyone dipped in gold. With her fashionable accessories, red lipstick and nail polish, she seems quite contemporary but for the celestial gleam of her flesh. The penetrating gaze and golden patina suggest she is a divine presence, like the stone sculpture of the temple goddess standing nearby. Borrowing from the grace and power of classical Hindu forms, Woman ’95 simultaneously refers to contemporary woman and ancient deities, prompting the viewer to reflect on the nature of feminine power, cosmic or human. PEM celebrated the Indian art and culture in its many splendid forms with ‘Sensational India!’ that presented the country’s remarkable visual, culinary, and performing arts.

PEM presents art and culture from New England and around the world. The museum's collections are among the finest of their kind, showcasing an unrivaled spectrum of American art and architecture and outstanding Asian, Asian Export, Native American, African, Oceanic, Maritime and Photography collections. In addition to its vast collections, the museum offers a vibrant schedule of changing exhibitions and a hands-on education center.

Next in line is an enchanting show, ‘Of Gods and Mortals, Traditional Art from India’. It will bring out how art is treated as an integral part of Indian way of life. An accompanying note elaborates: “The importance of paintings, sculpture, textiles and other art forms comprises two basic categories, one related to religious practices and the other to the expression of prestige and social position.” This new installation of works from the museum’s collection of Indian art will feature 28 pieces, principally representing the 1800’s to the present.

According to media report, about 50 works of Indian art from the museum are slated to find their way into the art arena this year. The exhibition, tentatively coincided with the official visit to India by US President Barack Obama in 2010, marks an attempt to forge artistic ties between India and America.

The PEM officials were recently in India to meet senior officials of the ministry of culture. They also visited National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), the National Museum, the Lalit Kala Akademi (LKA) as well as the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts in Delhi to get a sense of how works are presented in India. The works to be brought to India will be from the museum’s post-Independence collection. It boasts of masterpieces by S. H. Raza, M. F. Husain, Manjit Bawa, Rameshwar Broota, and Atul Dodiya, among others.