Contemporary Stories: Revisiting South Asian Narratives

This fall we extend our season of South Asian art into the twenty-first century by examining the continuing role of narrative and the use of traditional imagery in the arts of the Indian subcontinent. Guest curated by Rashmi Viswanathan, a specialist in South Asian contemporary art, the exhibition features the work of five artists—Chitra Ganesh, Nalini Malani, Ghulammohamed Sheikh, Nilima Sheikh, and Shahzia Sikander. Each produces art that relates to the past. Some directly reference or reinterpret techniques and stylistic manners found in earlier art, including the book-art tradition of miniature painting. G. Sheikh’s Mappa Mundi takes mapmaking as its organizational structure to present an alternative cartography of South Asia. Sikander’s Nemesis video animates a classical image of a composite animal as a commentary on the shifting nature of boundaries between good and evil.

Nalini Malani (Indian, born 1946), In Search of Vanished Blood, 2012. Digital pigment prints with hand-painted acrylic, 86.5 x 112 cm each. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Lelong, New York. © Nalini MalaniOther artists take inspiration from the symbiotic relationship between text and image present in many traditional paintings. Ganesh affects the mode of a graphic artist, creating images that recast traditional literary and religious figures in new narrative arrangements. N. Sheikh adopts a similar approach in her print Majnun Bereaved, a contemporary illustration of an eleventh-century poem from Arabia. Highlighting the continued appeal of deeply woven interactions between text and image are prints by Malani that refer to a poem by the revolutionary Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz.

Together, the works on view will give Museum visitors a glimpse into the varied ways in which contemporary South Asian artists draw on the past while grounding their work unambiguously in the realities of the present day.


Zoe S. Kwok

Assistant Curator of Asian Art


Contemporary Stories: Revisiting South Asian Narratives has been made possible by support from the Bagley Wright Jr., Class of 1946, Contemporary Art Fund and by Stacey Roth Goergen, Class of 1990, and Robert Goergen.