Radiate: Art of the South Asian Diaspora

Curated by Kathryn Myers


Jane Ross
Communications Coordinator

Identity and Experience of the South Asian Diaspora at Gallery 400

Radiate: Art of the South Asian Diaspora 
Curated by Kathryn Myers 
Gallery 400 
Chicago, IL 
November 2–December 15, 2012 

Sonia Chaudhary, I Am Sin, Handmade Book

Image: Sonia Chaudhary, I Am Sin, 2007, handmade book (detail).

October 15, 2012 – Chicago, IL — Radiate: Art of the South Asian Diaspora presents the work of eleven artists—Amina Ahmed, Shelly Bahl, Siona Benjamin, Neil Chowdhury, Anjali Deshmukh, Vijay Kumar, Annu Palakunnathu Matthew, Samanta Batra Mehta, Ebenezer Sunder Singh, and Tenzin Wangchuk—who currently reside in the northeastern United States and share origins and connections in South Asia. The diversity of meaning, metaphor, and material in their work defies attempts at locating any fixed geographic or cultural “essence” of identity among these artists. Rather, multiple and mutable senses of self and history are expressed through concepts and forms that weave an abundant labyrinth of associations.

The variety of questions that surround the identities and experiences of artists in the South Asian Diaspora was a point of inspiration for curator Kathryn Myers. To that end, the exhibition features a diverse group of artists that represent a wide variety of genres and working methods. Sonia Chaudhary’s sumptuously handcrafted book, I Am Sin, evokes holy books such as the Quran or Bible. But Chaudhary’s book tells of something much different: the stories of five Muslim women who suffered sexual abuse. With traditional henna as well as machine stitching, Chaudhary combines patterns and statements from each of the women on top of and into images of her body. The beauty of the book belies the trauma contained within its pages. Religion and mythology serve as inspiration for Siona Benjamin, whose Esther Scroll (Megillah) depicts a traditional narrative drawn from imagery inspired by Indian, Mughal, and Byzantine art. The dynamics of migration and global politics are reflected in the works of Neil Chowdhury, whose photomontages display an arresting portrayal of India’s overwhelming visual and aural sensations. Burdens and Desires and Brahma’s New World reveal Chowdhury’s attempt to ground himself in an inherited country that proves to be a hypnotically schizophrenic land. Samanta Batra Mehta deals with personal experiences of displacement, as she finds inspiration in a lush landscape of memory and myth in the gardens her grandfather left behind during the partition of India. Annu Palakunnathu Matthew’s photo animations move through generations of women, beginning with her own family heritage in England, India, and the United States. In the video House of the Rising Sun, Shelly Bahl focuses on two architectural environments, a former British colonial era courthouse and a post-independence modern house in Delhi. Dancer Anusha Lall—who is trained in both the classical Bharatanatyam as well as contemporary dance—creates an improvisational and interpretive physical response to these two very different environments. What is shared by the work of these and other artists included in Radiate: Art of the South Asian Diaspora is an exploration of identity and history.

Artists from the South Asian diaspora have been a dynamic force in reframing and reshaping Asian and Euro-American art history. Whether drawing from family heritage in South Asia, the United States, or other parts of the world, these artists move between geographies, histories, and cultural practices of East and West in a way that characterizes today's globalized world.

Related Programs: 

Opening Reception: 
Friday, November 2, 2012, 5–8pm 

Panel discussion: Shelly Bahl, Siona Benjamin, Pradosh Mishra, and Kathryn Myers
Thursday, November 1, 6pm

Video presentation: Regarding India, Conversations with Contemporary Artists
Friday, November 2, 12pm

Regarding India, Conversations with Contemporary Artists is a series of videotaped interviews by Kathryn Myers, Professor of Painting at the University of Connecticut. Started in 2011 during a Fulbright Fellowship, the project will eventually comprise over 50 interviews. Through the creation of a website, regardingindia.com, the series will be available for anyone interested in contemporary Indian art. In this screening, Myers will present the first four videos of the series.

Film and Video Screening: Translations
Curated by Mathew Paul Jinks and Megha Ralapati
Wednesday, November 28, 7pm

Voices Lecture: Saloni Mathur
Spring 2013

Saloni Mathur is associate professor of art history at UCLA. Her areas of interest include the visual cultures of modern South Asia and its diasporas, colonial studies and postcolonial criticism, the history of anthropological ideas, museum studies in a global frame, and modern and contemporary South Asian art. Mathur is author of India by Design: Colonial History and Cultural Display (UC Press, 2007), editor of The Migrant’s Time: Rethinking Art History and Diaspora (Clark Art Institute/Yale University Press, 2011), and co-editor (with Kavita Singh) of No Touching, No Spitting, No Praying: Modalities of the Museum in South Asia (Routledge, forthcoming). She has received awards/fellowships from the Yale Center for British Art, the Getty Grant Program, the Clark Art Institute, the Getty Research Institute, the University of California Humanities Research Institute, and the Social Science Research Council of Canada. Mathur received her PhD in cultural anthropology from the New School for Social Research in New York in 1998.


Gallery 400 offers guided tours for groups of all ages. Tours are free of charge but require reservation. Please complete our online form (accessible on our website at gallery400.uic.edu/visit/tours) to schedule a tour of Radiate: Art of the South Asian Diaspora. For more information, or to discuss the specific needs and interests of your group, please contact us at 312-996-6114 or gallery400@uic.edu.

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Radiate: Art of the South Asian Diaspora is supported by the College of Architecture and the Arts, University of Illinois at Chicago, and a grant from the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, as well as the Asian American Studies Institute at the University of Connecticut; the India Studies Program at the University of Connecticut; and the Maximilian E. and Marion O. Hoffman Foundation.

Founded in 1983, Gallery 400 is one of the nation's most vibrant university galleries, showcasing work at the leading edge of contemporary art, architecture, and design. The Gallery's program of exhibitions, lectures, film and video screenings, and performances features interdisciplinary and experimental practices. Operating within the College of Architecture and the Arts at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), Gallery 400 endeavors to make the arts and its practitioners accessible to a broad spectrum of the public and to cultivate a variety of cultural and intellectual perspectives. Gallery 400 is recognized for its support of the creation of new work, the diversity of its programs and participants, and the development of experimental models for multidisciplinary exhibition.