Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Oglethorpe University Museum of Art: Goddess, Lion, Peasant, Priest

Viewing Seema Kohli's Work
I’d been anxiously anticipating the opening of “Goddess, Lion, Peasant, Priest: Modern and Contemporary Indian Art from the Collection of Shelley and Donald Rubin” since I first heard about it a couple of months ago. It was worth the wait!

The exhibition, at Oglethorpe University, features 50 modern and contemporary works by 28 artists from India, created since independence from British colonial rule in 1947. The exhibition artists represented include some of the biggest names, including many women, in the Indian art scene.

Coming from another tourATLANTA research excursion, I arrived about 30 minutes after the opening reception had started, but in plenty of time to enjoy the impressive event.

Goddess, Lion, Peasant, Priest
There was a great crowd of visitors, more than I expected. Some were from Oglethorpe, many regulars (I presume), and quite a few more who heard about the exhibit from various sources.

The reception was quite lovely. Admission was free and there were complimentary beverages (wine, beer, soda, water) and an impressive, delicious spread of Indian cuisine, created by Oglethorpe catering. Food for the fundraising Gala the evening the before was provided by local Indian restaurants.

Curator Rebecca M. Brown,PhD
The highlight of the reception was a presentation by the exhibition curator, Rebecca M. Brown, Ph.D. of Johns Hopkins University.

Rebecca, quite enthusiastically, regaled us with the origin of the exhibition and her work with Shelley and Donald Rubin.

Her favorite, although she noted more than one, is an untitled piece by Ganesh Pyne. A drawing of black, white, and gray pastels, the depiction of Hanuman, the monkey-god who played a pivotal role in the rescuing of the God Rama’s wife, is a rather profound drawing that evokes a curious mood.

Rebecca's Presentation
After the presentation Rebecca answered a number of questions from the audience…some great ones at that. One visitor asked about the popularity of modern art in India compared to the immense popularity of modern art in the United States.

Rebecca told us (most of us had no idea) that shortly after independence in the capital city of New Delhi, in addition to the National Museum of India there is nearby the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA).

The NGMA was first conceived in 1949, only two years after independence, in an effort to capture, preserve, and showcase the modern art of India.

One of the challenges Rebecca told us about that modern artists have, against the stereotype of Indian art, was how they were to express themselves in a modern manner while retaining their Indian heritage.

Goddess, Lion, Peasant, Priest
Based on the pieces Rebecca chose to share in this exhibition, I personally feel the artists have met that challenge with outstanding success.

The Rubins generously provided 1,000 copies of the exhibition catalog to be sold at $20 ($18 for museum members), which is a significant deal compared to the price for most exhibition catalogs. The proceeds from catalog sales are being contributed to the museum.

Dr. Brown was kind enough to autograph catalogs during the remainder of the reception and very kindly allowed me to make a photograph…it’s not every day I meet a curator of her stature, so I was honored by her graciousness.

I explored the exhibition before and after the presentation. The exhibition is presented in various themes.

"Untitled" by Seema Kohli
The demarcations in the pieces in the exhibition—a mere portion of the Rubins’ total collection of contemporary and modern Indian art—includes characters, inhabiting spaces urban and rural, and spiritual.

Within the galleries one will find depictions of a goddess, a lion, a peasant, and a priest, giving to the name of the exhibition.

My personal favorite, and judging by the crowds around it, is an untitled piece by Seema Kohli. The bright blues, reds, and oranges draw the eye and the detail revealed up close captures your attention sending your imagination on a journey of another land and different world.

Said of Kohli in the exhibition catalog:

“Throughout her work, Kohli explores the power of female energy within Indian culture, producing images overwhelming in their detail and yet clear in their multilayered message.”

A few other pieces that I like very much are Skin Grafted by Mahjabin Majumdar, Man on a Cane Chair (this one reminded me of Scrooge, explained by Sen’s dark humor) by Paritosh Sen, and Ascension by Arpana Caur.

Exhibition Visitors
This was my first Oglethorpe University Museum of Art reception, the first of many, I hope. I’d received invitations before, but for various reasons was unable to attend. I think that from now on, I’ll be rearranging my calendar so that I can attend…it was a wonderful way to spend an hour or two on a Sunday afternoon.

On other Sunday afternoons, there are docent-led tours.


Docent-led tours are available on Sundays at 2:00 p.m., which I highly recommend. Self-guided tours are available any other time during museum hours. If you’d like to further enhance your visit, stop by the gift shop for an exhibition catalog.

The Return

I’ve been to the Oglethorpe University Museum of Art…return again? Yes. At this point, I consider myself a “regular.” This museum’s collection and special exhibits are truly superb…any visit is certain to impress and impart a desire to return for their next exhibit.

Touring the Oglethorpe University Museum of Art

Date toured: Sunday, March 13, 2011
Hours: Tuesday through Sunday 12:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Location: 4484 Peachtree Road, NE (
directions and map)
Cost: $5
Parking: Free onsite parking

Oglethorpe University Museum of Art

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