Asia Society Presents Landmark Exhibition Celebrating the Rich Artistic Tradition of Kashmir

October 3, 2007 through January 6, 2008

Media preview: Monday, October 1, 2007 at noon

"If there is a paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here." - Mughal Emperor Jahangir (r. 1605-1627)

Asia Society is pleased to present the first-ever major exhibition devoted to the rich artistic tradition of Kashmir. An important cultural bridge between the Indian subcontinent and regions to the west and east for over two millennia, the Kashmir Valley was a vibrant hub of intellectual activity for its Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim populations. Multiple cultural influences have fostered a unique artistic environment of diverse aesthetics, witnessed in this landmark exhibition of 130 sumptuous objects of exemplary quality, dating from the 2nd to the 20th centuries.

The Arts of Kashmir comprises works of Buddhist, Hindu, and Islamic art, including sculpture, painting, and calligraphy loaned from collections in the U.S., Europe, and India. Many of the objects have never been seen outside of India; in some cases they have never been exhibited or published anywhere.

To provide a sense of the broad artistic contributions of this famously lush and beautiful region, the exhibition includes examples of stone and bronze sculptures and manuscript paintings, in addition to the fine examples of papier-mâché, carpets, shawls, and embroidery for which Kashmir is renowned.

"The Arts of Kashmir exhibition aims to increase understanding of the historic artistic importance of the Kashmir Valley and the important role of the region in the development of intellectual life in South Asia," said Asia Society Museum Director Melissa Chiu. "Understanding Kashmiri cultural heritage is crucial for all of us in today's world, especially because it tends to be overly simplified in much of the current reportage on this disputed region."

The Arts of Kashmir curator is the highly respected Dr. Pratapaditya Pal, the world's leading authority on the subject. He commented that the exhibition "tells the story of generations of Kashmiris who excelled in producing art in a wide variety of media, not only the shawls that have become almost synonymous with Kashmir."

The exhibition is organized chronologically, with works dating from Kashmir's beginnings as an important center for Hindu and Buddhist practice and philosophical development. One of the earliest pieces in the exhibition is a 4th-century terra-cotta tile depicting crouching ascetics and birds from Harwan, a site associated with Buddhism. Most surviving sculptures from ancient Kashmir were created to serve a religious purpose, for both Hindu and Buddhist patrons who included ministers, merchants, and monks. Beginning after the 7th century, a distinct Kashmiri style began to emerge, as evidenced by a spectacular, large-scale, limestone sculpture dated to the 7 th century of the Hindu goddess Indrani. This exceptional loan object from Srinagar has never been seen in the U.S. The distinctive features, elongated body, and typical Kashmiri dress reveala sophisticated level of artistic production and also point to a unique Kashmiri style.

Later works show further refinement of the Kashmiri sculptural aesthetic, such as a remarkable and elaborately wrought 9th-century bronze Mandala of Vishnu. He is depicted with four goddesses, mounted on Garuda, who is depicted as a man with an eagle's beak and wings. The exhibition also includes a stunning array of bronze Buddhist sculptures, including a 10th-century brass Buddha, on loan from the Cleveland Museum of Art, with delicate and nuanced modeling, demonstrating Kashmiri mastery of metal casting. Other metalwork pieces reference the unique Kashmiri art of silver and copper inlay that, like the visual forms of this era, exerted a strong influence outside of Kashmir on neighboring kingdoms in China, Tibet, Pakistan, and Nepal.

The subsequent arrival and spread of Islam, beginning with the early Sultanate period in the mid-14th century and reaching its height during the later Mughal era, witnessed an extraordinary patronage of arts, architecture, literature, and music. A stele with a Persian inscription of its Sultanate patron is one of the early Islamic pieces. During the Mughal period of the 16th to 18th centuries, enchantment with the valley's beautiful landscape and royal usage of the area as a retreat fostered romantic images of the Kashmir Valley that have endured for centuries. Mughal paintings from this period depict the rich courtly scenes and celebrations typical of the Mughal narrative tradition, while featuring distinctive local Kashmiri scenery and topographical features.

Demand for Kashmiri-produced handicrafts across the far-flung Mughal and later British Empires fostered an already strong tradition of papier-mâché, metalwork, and painted, carved, or lacquered wood, a selection of which are on display. These objects show the favored motifs of floral, poppy, and paisley. For centuries, Kashmir has been celebrated for its highly prized wool carpets and shawls. The exhibition features some of the finest examples of these, pointing to outside influences in patterning and embroidery as well as to the unique elements of indigenous Kashmiri style. Innovations in fine needlepoint ushered in new patterns featuring animals, people, and even - in the case of a magnificently embroidered 19th-century wool shawl - a map of Srinagar depicting important landmarks of the city.

Dr. Pal has been engaged with the art of Kashmir for more than thirty years. The author of more than 50 books and numerous major exhibitions, he has conducted pioneering research on the arts of Tibet, Nepal, and India. A fully illustrated, 224-page scholarly book edited and authored by Dr. Pal - with contributions by Frank Ames, Simon Digby, Gerald James Larson, and John Siudmak - accompanies the exhibition. More expansive than an exhibition catalogue, the book includes chapters on the distinctive architecture and other cultural expressions of Kashmir as well as photographs of the region's distinctively beautiful natural landscape.

The Arts of Kashmir and accompanying book are made possible with lead sponsorship from The Partridge Foundation, a John and Polly Guth Charitable Fund. Major support was also provided by E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, the Lee and Juliet Folger Fund, Amita and Purnendu Chatterjee, Dr. Nirmal Mattoo and Tina Mattoo, and The Coby Foundation, Ltd.

Related Programs
Asia Society is presenting a number of lectures by scholars who are involved with The Arts of Kashmir to coincide with the exhibition. Curator Pratapaditya Pal will discuss the artistic heritage of ancient Kashmir at a lecture preceding the members' opening on Tuesday, October 2 at 6:00 p.m. (free for members; limited seating). John W. Seyller will discuss "Kashmiri Elements in Mughal Painting" on Friday, November 2 at 6:30 p.m. Frank Ames' lecture is titled "From Mughal Whimsicality to Sikh Flamboyancy: The Kashmir Shawl Style" and will be held Thursday, December 6 at 6:30 p.m. ($7 students with IDseniors; $10 members; $12 nonmembers).

About the Asia Society
Asia Society is the leading global and pan-Asian organization working to strengthen relationships and promote understanding among the people, leaders and institutions of the United States and Asia. We seek to increase knowledge and enhance dialogue, encourage creative expression, and generate new ideas across the fields of policy, business, education, arts, and culture. Founded in 1956 by John D. Rockefeller 3rd, Asia Society is a nonprofit educational institution with offices in Hong Kong, Houston, Los Angeles, Manila, Melbourne, Mumbai, New York, San Francisco, Shanghai, and Washington, D.C.

Asia Society Museum presents groundbreaking exhibitions and artworks, many previously unseen in North America. Through exhibitions and related public programs, Asia Society provides a forum for the issues and viewpoints reflected in both traditional and contemporary Asian art.

Asia Society and Museum
725 Park Avenue (at 70th Street), New York City. The Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m, Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Closed Monday. General admission is $10, seniors $7, students $5, and free for members and persons under 16. Free admission Fridays, 6:00 to 9:00 p.m.

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Contact: Elaine Merguerian or Jennifer Suh at (212) 327-9271