Archiving South Asia

Annapurna (detail), Udaya Charan Shrestha, oil on canvas, 1993

Last week the Berkeley Art Museum, Cal's History of Art Department, and the Center for South Asia Studies joined forces to host a conference on South Asian art. Dina Bangdel, a specialist in the art and ritual traditions of Newar Buddhism in Nepal, had some provocative things to say about tradition and modernity. Looking at contemporary Nepalese artist Udaya Charan Shrestha, she examined the collision between hyperrealist oil painting, western tourist demand, and traditional Newar painting. The result is, of course, Shrestha's work. His painting is regularly dismissed, even though he's been collected by the Rubin Museum in New York. I'm not sure where I'd place him on the scale of "high art," but I do appreciate Bangdel's challenge to examine our definitions "modern" and "traditional" art, as well as the rigid boundaries we usually employ to keep the two apart.

Kaavad: Traveling Shrine (Home), Gulammohammed Sheikh, 2008
Photo Credit Manish Mehta

I also had a chance to listen to Karin Zitzewitz for the first time. Amongst many things, she works on Hindu nationalist iconography and how it has been (and is continuing to become) politicized in India. Using the work of Ghulammohammed Sheikh, a major Indian art figure from Baroda, she lead us through a critique of Hindutva. Sheik uses digital quotations, or pulls visual material from a variety of sources, to create an alternative view of history in India through his work. History loses its linearity, legendary figures from across time and space rub shoulders, and a more syncretic, stylized reality is born. 

Vishnu and Garuda Save the King of the Elephants (Gajendra Maksha)1660, Gouache on Paper, 1974.6

We also got a sneak peak of an upcoming exhibition soon to open at the Berkeley Art Museum "The Elephant's Eye: Artful Animals in South and Southeast Asia." The curators had pulled over a dozen pieces of artwork from the BAM collection and laid them out on tables for us to peruse. There's nothing quite like seeing art, up close and personal, minus the glass. But even with the glass it's still worth a trip to see the exhibit, which opens in March.