Contemporary Stories: Revisiting South Asian Narratives at the Princeton University Art Museum, Oct. 22, 2016-Jan. 22, 2017

Chitra Ganesh, American, born 1975, Shimmering Pulse, 2009. Exhibition print from a digital file. Courtesy of the artist. © Chitra Ganesh.

PRINCETON, N.J.:As part of its focus this fall on the art of South Asia, the Princeton University Art Museum presents the work of five renowned contemporary artists – Chitra Ganesh, Nalini Malani, Nilima Sheikh, Gulammohammed Sheikh and Shahzia Sikander – whose work draws on and reinterprets the storytelling, techniques and styles of earlier artistic traditions. Featuring printmaking, painting and video art, Contemporary Stories: Revisiting South Asian Narratives suggests the varied ways in which contemporary practitioners, based both in post-partition India and Pakistan and abroad, draw on the past while grounding their work in the realities of the 21st century.

Contemporary Stories: Revisiting South Asian Narratives will be on view at the Princeton University Art Museum from Oct. 22, 2016, through Jan. 22, 2017. The works included are drawn from the Princeton University Art Museum collections as well as lent from private collectors, the artists and their galleries.

Organized by the Princeton University Art Museum, the exhibition is guest curated by Rashmi Viswanathan, an independent curator and specialist in contemporary South Asian art. The organizing curator at the Princeton University Art Museum is Zoe S. Kwok, assistant curator of Asian art.

“This fall the Princeton University Art Museum is looking closely at the art of South Asia, past and present, as one of the world’s richest visual traditions,” said James Steward, Nancy A. Nasher–David J. Haemisegger, Class of 1976, Director. “The five artists in Contemporary Stories will provide visitors entrée to the thriving field of contemporary South Asian art that advances past traditions – and in so doing reminds us why those traditions still matter today.”

Shahzia Sikander, American, born in Pakistan, 1969, Illustrated Page Series #3, 2005–06. Work on paper (framed). Collection of the Fabric Museum and Workshop, Philadelphia. © Shahzia Sikander.

By considering the continuing power and role of narrative, and of traditional visual techniques, in South Asian art, the exhibition engages both historical inquiry and today’s most compelling issues. For example, Gulammohammed Sheikh and Shahzia Sikander directly deploy the Indo-Persian book art tradition of miniature paintings as spaces for offering layered commentaries and refashioning India’s colonial and imperial histories. Sheikh’s Mappa Mundi takes mapmaking as its organizing premise to present an alternative reading of South Asia. Sikander’s Nemesis video animates the well-loved classical image of a composite animal as commentary on the shifting nature of boundaries between good and evil.

Other artists take inspiration from the symbiotic relationship between text and image present in many traditional South Asian paintings. Chitra Ganesh affects the mode of a graphic artist, creating images that reimagine and recast traditional literary and religious figures in new narrative arrangements. Nilima Sheikh adopts a similar approach in her Majnun Bereaved, a contemporary illustration of an 11th-century poem from Arabia. Highlighting the continuing appeal of deeply interwoven relationships between text and image will be works by Nalini Malani that refer to a poem by the revolutionary Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz.

Companion programming for the exhibition will include a public lecture on Nov. 10 by the guest curator and an artist’s talk by Shahzia Sikander on Nov. 17. (Sikander is also the recipient of two major art commissions for the Princeton campus, currently in progress.)

Nalini Malani, Indian, born 1946, In Search of Vanished Blood, 2012. Digital pigment print with hand-painted acrylic on Hahnemuhle bamboo paper. Courtesy Nalini Malani and Galerie Lelong. © Nalini Malani.

Contemporary Stories was organized in conjunction with Epic Tales from India: Paintings from The San Diego Museum of Art, an exhibition of one of the most significant collections of South Asian painting outside of India. The exhibition will premiere at the Princeton University Art Museum from Nov. 19, 2016, through Feb. 5, 2017, before traveling to two additional venues. Epic Tales encompasses more than 90 paintings drawn exclusively from the Edwin Binney 3rd Collection at the San Diego Museum of Art and explores the major narratives, regions and styles of South Asian art from the 16th through the 19th century.

About the Princeton University Art Museum

With a collecting history that extends back to the 1750s, the Princeton University Art Museum is one of the leading university art museums in the country, with collections that have grown to include over 97,000 works of art ranging from ancient to contemporary art and spanning the globe.

Committed to advancing Princeton’s teaching and research missions, the Art Museum also serves as a gateway to the University for visitors from around the world. Intimate in scale yet expansive in scope, the Museum offers a respite from the rush of daily life, a revitalizing experience of extraordinary works of art and an opportunity to delve deeply into the study of art and culture.

The Princeton University Art Museum is located at the heart of the Princeton campus, a short walk from the shops and restaurants of Nassau Street. Admission is free. Museum hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday 1 to 5 p.m. The Museum is closed Mondays and major holidays.