Exhibition | Epic Tales from Ancient India

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on July 13, 2017

The Demon Dhumraksha Leads His Army, North India, Kulu or Bahu, ca. 1700–10; opaque watercolor on paper (The San Diego Museum of Art, Edwin Binney 3rd Collection, 1990.1107).

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Press release from the Blanton:

Epic Tales from Ancient India: Paintings from The San Diego Museum of Art
Princeton University Art Museum, 19 November 2016 — 5 February 2017

Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, 9 July — 1 October 2017
The San Diego Museum of Art, 3 March — 12 June 2018

One of the most comprehensive collections of South Asian paintings outside of India will be on display at the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas at Austin from July 9 to October 1, 2017. These dynamic images were originally associated with important literary and religious texts and will be organized according to thematic narratives. Museum visitors will be introduced to the epic stories that continue to hold great cultural value in India and beyond.

Rama and Sita Enthroned, ca. 1800; opaque watercolor and gold on paper, 24.7 × 18.5 cm (The San Diego Museum of Art, Edwin Binney 3rd Collection).

“The Blanton is honored to partner with The San Diego Museum of Art to bring this remarkable collection to Austin,” said Blanton director Simone Wicha. “The epic stories have much to say about courage, loyalty, love and friendship, and the paintings themselves impress with the delicacy of their technique, the boldness of their design, and the humanity of the stories they convey. This exhibition is sure to delight audiences of all ages.”

Epic Tales from Ancient India: Paintings from The San Diego Museum of Art represents the highest achievement of court paintings from several regions of the Indian subcontinent from the 16th to the 19th centuries and have been selected from the renowned Edwin Binney 3rd Collection of The San Diego Museum of Art. This exhibition depicts stories that have been integral to South Asian culture for hundreds of years and provides a compelling introduction to classic Indian and Persian texts, including Bhagavata Purana, a Sanskrit text about the Hindu god Vishnu and his different incarnations; Ramayana, the adventures of Prince Rama of Ayodhya; Ragamala, a text that explores various modes in Indian classical music; and works of Persian literature, including Shahnameh, an epic poem about the legendary kings of Iran. The colorful manuscripts depict dutiful heroes, loyal friends, and strong-willed women, and each character serves as an instructive model in. Dangerous beasts, cunning adversaries, and assorted demons must be confronted and subdued. Battle scenes teeming with combatants give way to quieter moments, such as lovers meeting for a secret tryst. Many of the stories have religious significance and show the intervention of various divinities in maintaining cosmic order.

Complementing the paintings will be examples of Chola-period processional bronze images, Vishnu and Hanuman, on loan from the Kimbell Art Museum and the Cleveland Museum of Art, respectively. These works hint at Hindu ritual practices and highlight the religious significance of the narratives.

Ray Williams, who leads the Blanton’s education efforts and serves as the managing curator for this exhibition, has a deep appreciation for India’s cultural expressions through story and image. “The struggle for cosmic order in the face of dark forces and fulfilling one’s duty with courage and integrity, are ongoing human concerns. The paintings invite us to plunge into Rama’s world, for example, and readily join in the quest to rescue Sita from the ten-headed, mustachioed, demon king and his frightful army,” said Williams.

A series of public programs will complement the exhibition, featuring gallery talks, musical demonstrations, classical Indian dance, and storytelling performances.

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The catalogue is distributed by Yale UP:

Marika Sardar, with contributions by Neeraja Poddar, Qamar Adamjee, and Alka Patel, Epic Tales from Ancient India: Paintings from The San Diego Museum of Art (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017), 164 pages, ISBN: 978 03002 23729, $45.

Exploring the topic of narrativity in Indian art, this beautiful and deeply researched book considers illustrations to the Bhagavata Purana, the Ramayana, the Ragamala, and a range of texts in the Persian language, notably the Shahnama. Featuring stunning reproductions of paintings made between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries from the Edwin Binney 3rd Collection at The San Diego Museum of Art, the publication includes thorough and fascinating explanations of the narrative of each text, including how that narrative is visually conveyed. Essays examine why these particular stories are so enduring, why patrons may have chosen to have a copy of a particular text made for their own collections, and how artists responded to the challenge of creating new versions of venerable classics.

Marika Sardar is Associate Curator of Southern Asian and Islamic art at The San Diego Museum of Art. Neeraja Poddar is the Mellon Fellow at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Qamar Adamjee is Associate Curator of South Asian and Islamic art at the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco. Alka Patel is Associate Professor of South Asian and Islamic Art at the University of California at Irvine.



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