Jewel in the Crown (far left) part of an un­fin­ished ceil­ing bracket, circa 11th c (ap­prox ); (left) in­dra, king of the gods’ heaven: here he wears a crown stud­ded with semi­precious stones, rich jew­elry, and an in­tri­cately wo­ven lower gar­ment.


minia­ture paint­ings, royal and re­li­gious tex­tiles, ceram­ics, video footage of life and wor­ship in In­dia, and archival pho­tog­ra­phy.

The South Asian Gal­leries at the mu­seum also ex­hibit the well-known and his­toric col­lec­tion of Stella Kram­risch, whom Rabindranath Tagore revered deeply. An Aus­trian bal­le­rina, she fell deeply in love with In­dia when she first read a trans­la­tion of the Bha­gavad Gita. Af­ter earn­ing a doc­tor­ate in In­dian cul­tural stud­ies in 1919, she taught at Shan­tinike­tan, and lived in In­dia for nearly 30 years be­tween 1921 and 1950 trav­el­ling, col­lect­ing, re­search­ing and writ­ing about In­dian art. Many in In­dia still re­mem­ber Kram­risch as the “lit­tle woman with a huge pres­ence.” Kram­risch, who be­came a de­vout Shiva fol­lower, is of­ten cited as the first In­dian art his­to­rian. Her ex­hi­bi­tions were bold and dar­ing, push­ing ac­cepted bound­aries. It was she who or­gan­ised the “Man­i­fes­ta­tions of Shiva” in 1981, an ex­hi­bi­tion in the United States that in­tro­duced vis­i­tors to the power of this con­tra­dic­tory god. She died at the age of 97, leav­ing her en­tire col­lec­tion of over 1,000 art ob­jects—sculp­ture, minia­ture paint­ings, tex­tiles, folk and tribal art—to the Philadel­phia Mu­seum of Art. This re­mark­able woman, her gen­eros­ity and schol­ar­ship re­main at the heart of the mu­seum’s col­lec­tion.

The ap­prox­i­mately 200 ob­jects on dis­play in the new gal­leries are pre­sented in two ma­jor themes: Art and the Divine and Art,

Power, Sta­tus, show­ing how civil­i­sa­tions have used art to re­late to God and to as­sert wealth and power. Be­gin­ning with a small room fit­tingly ded­i­cated to Kram­risch, 20th cen­tury’ s mother god­dess of In­dian art, the new gal­leries al­low vis­i­tors to cre­ate their own nar­ra­tives and in­ter­pre­ta­tions, per­haps even con­tra­dic­tory ones, much like Kram­risch’s favourite God, Shiva. The re­sults of the reimag­ined space is that there is no sin­gle, lin­ear chronol­ogy, “You don’t have to fol­low a route; you pick and choose,” says Ma­son.

Also, bring­ing the past into di­a­logue with the present, one of the fas­ci­nat­ing in­ter­ven­tions has been the cu­ra­tor’s com­mis­sion of Pak­istani-born artist Shazia Sikan­der. Sikan­der has cre­ated a con­tem­po­rary an­i­ma­tion in­spired by the com­pli­cated love story vi­su­alised in the 200-year old man­u­script, Gul­shan-e-Ishq, in the mu­seum’s per­ma­nent col­lec­tion. “It has been ex­cit­ing to reimag­ine the gal­leries for a new gen­er­a­tion of vis­i­tors. Each of the works was orig­i­nally cre­ated to com­mu­ni­cate, whether to wor­ship­pers, kings, vil­lagers, or gods and we hope that ev­ery vis­i­tor dis­cov­ers some­thing here that brings new mean­ing into her or his own life,” says Ma­son.

Only an hour by train from New York City, Philadel­phia Mu­seum’s rein­car­nated South Asian art gal­leries are a must for any art and his­tory lover. A re­minder of our rich her­itage and per­haps even a small ges­ture of grat­i­tude to the Amer­i­can women who have pre­served and res­ur­rected South Asia’s an­cient art in the US: Ade­line Pep­per Gib­son, Stella Kram­risch and Darielle Ma­son.




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