December Spotlight: The South Asia Institute

Left: The South Asia Institute gallery. Right: Public programming at the Institute, photo by Safdar Mirza.

Recently opened in Chicago, new Alliance Member Organization The South Asia Institute seeks to foster and promote the art, culture, and literature of the South Asia region. Featuring one of the largest private collections of South Asian visual art in the United States, the Institute opens this work up to the general public through exhibitions, discussions, seminars, performances, research, and artist exchanges.

“We want to share [the collection] with a wider audience,” says Institute Co-Director Shireen Ahmad. “Particularly since some of the contemporary and modern work is relatively unknown.”

South Asia — a region that includes Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, among others — has an artistic history filled with mixing traditions. Visual art from the region shows influences from the miniature painting tradition founded in modern day Pakistan and India, as well as European traditions brought to the area by British colonizers.

“Today, [artists] are combining these old and new ways with content focused on life in South Asia,” notes Afzal Ahmad, Co-Director of the Institute.

With the success of its first and current exhibition, “South Asian Modern Masters,” the Institute has big plans for the future, including establishing itself as a research facility for South Asian heritage, developing links with universities for resource sharing, building a beta-site to serve as inspiration for other cities, and encouraging exchanges between local and South Asian artists.

Ultimately, the Institute hopes this work helps visitors understand the richness and heritage of South Asian culture, both for those with familial ties to the region as well as those with no connection at all.

“It’s not just the art that we want to share, but also our cultural heritage,” concludes Shireen. “There’s a large South Asian population in Chicago and the United States and not many of them are aware of their heritage. It’s very important, especially for the young generation that’s growing up.”

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