South Asia Exhibit Addresses Representation, Identity

South Asia Exhibit Addresses Representation, Identity

East Indian Railway. Postcard from Digital South Asia Library, The University of Chicago Library.

How did European explorers, missionaries, colonial officials, and scholars view South Asia? What did South Asian self-representations look like? Ulrike Stark, Anna Seastrand, and Ian Desai curated Envisioning South Asia: Texts, Scholarship, Legacies with these questions of representation and identity in mind.

“We started off with two basic ideas,” said Stark, Professor and Chair of the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations. “One was to feature some of the highlights of the South Asia related resources housed in the Library; the other was a project of institutional history, a reflection on our intellectual legacy.”

Harper-Schmidt Fellows Seastrand and Desai worked with Stark to capture scholarly and popular imaginations of South Asia through a variety of artifacts: novels, paintings, maps, palm-leaf manuscripts, and more. Seastrand praised the diversity and richness of Regenstein’s collection and said their research “felt something like an endlessly gratifying treasure hunt.”

The curators discovered some surprises along the way. “I was thrilled to find not only richly illustrated manuscripts and loose folios dating from the 15th to the 19th centuries,” said Seastrand, “but also so-called ‘folk’ and ‘tribal’ paintings, which are so visually arresting. I particularly fell in love with the enormous painted scroll, phad, which is used in storytelling.”

"Working with Anna and Ulrike to curate this exhibition was an education in itself, providing consistent opportunities for insight into the treasures of our library collections, the wisdom of my co-curators on the broadest variety of subjects, and the power of scholarly collaboration at this University," Desai added.

This year marks both the 50th anniversary of the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations and the 60th anniversary of the Committee on Southern Asian Studies. “This is an extraordinary year for South Asian Studies,” Stark remarked. “I can think of no better way and place to launch our anniversary celebrations and showcase Chicago’s outstanding tradition of scholarship than this exhibit in the Regenstein Library.”

Envisioning South Asia: Texts, Scholarship, Legacies will be on view from January 11 to March 18, 2016 at the Special Collections Research Center Gallery. An online version of the exhibit is also available.

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February 2, 2016