Indian American Siddhartha V. Shah has been appointed curator of Indian and South Asian Art at Peabody Essex Museum.
PEM is home to the most important collection of modern-era Indian art, from colonial times to the present, outside of India, according to a press release. In his new position, Shah will develop exhibitions that tell the stories of the artists, communities and traditions of South Asia, as well as important moments in the history of the region.
In 2001, the acquisition of the Chester and Davida Herwitz collection of post-Independence art from India established PEM as the first museum outside of India to focus on the achievements of its modern artists. With this unparalleled collection, according to the museum, Shah will advance an appreciation for the living artistic traditions of India and South Asia, both locally and globally.
“These artistic traditions are – and have always been – dynamic, ever-evolving and forward-moving,” said Shah. “The Herwitz Collection, in particular, allows us to present the art of South Asia and its diverse cultures as connected to the past while looking firmly to the future. With such an extraordinary collection of modern works, we have the ability to initiate new conversations and expand old perceptions.”
Shah comes to PEM from Columbia University with academic interests that include the aesthetics of imperial rule in British India, tantric cults of the divine feminine, and late 19th century British and French painting, adds the release. In addition to working as an independent curator, Shah spent 15 years as a gallerist, specializing in Hindu and Buddhist art of the Kathmandu Valley as well as modern and contemporary Indian art.
His 2011 exhibition at the Serindia Gallery in Bangkok, “Tales of Love and Betrayal: A Modern Retelling of the Ramayana,” brought together the works of three Indian artists – Nirmala Biluka, Ananda Gadapa and M.F. Husain – to present a retelling of the ancient epic through a modern visual language.
“Siddhartha Shah is a warm, bold and entrepreneurial art professional with wide-ranging interests in South Asian art,” Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, PEM’s James B. and Mary Lou Hawkes deputy director, said in a statement. “Just as the South Asian field is evolving, in all of his professional, academic and curatorial work, he seeks to bring the rich, multi-faceted traditions of South Asia into more current, relevant conversations about social and religious diversity, tolerance and inclusion.”
Shah earned his bachelors of arts degree in European and classical Greek art history from Johns Hopkins University in 2000, and his masters in Jungian psychoanalysis and Indian philosophy from the California Institute of Integral Studies in 2003, and in art history and archaeology at Columbia University in 2015.
Shah completes his dissertation, “Ornamenting the Raj: Opulence and Spectacle in British India, 1851-1903,” at Columbia this year. His academic research has been supported by the Steven Kossak Graduate Fellowship in South Asian/Indian Art, the Dr. Lee MacCormick Edwards Doctoral Summer Fellowship, the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, The Cathedral Fund/Royal Academy of Arts and a Mellon Humanities International Travel Fellowship.
Shah also serves on the editorial board of Illumine, a Chicago-based publication focused on yoga, wellness and psychospiritual development. As a yoga instructor, Shah has also led several workshops.