By Sara Patterson
UChicago’s Division of the Humanities launches a new visiting professorship in South Asian Art and Media in 2025‒2026 thanks to generous funding from Dr. Shireen and Dr. Afzal Ahmad. Their $1.5 million gift will provide for a visiting professor for one quarter annually, expanding the university’s visibility and expertise in South Asian art.
“The Ahmads' gift will bring new attention to the visual arts and media of South Asia,” said Deborah L. Nelson, Dean of the Division of the Humanities and Helen B. and Frank L. Sulzberger Professor in the Department of English Language and Literature and the College at UChicago. “Hiring a faculty member of great distinction will enhance our already top departments in South Asian Languages and Cultures, Art History, and Cinema and Media Studies and bring them into closer partnership.”
Philanthropists and medical doctors, the Ahmads founded the South Asia Institute in 2015, which cultivates the art and culture of South Asian Americans through exhibitions and associated programming as well as showcasing their Hundal Collection, a significant assemblage of modern and contemporary South Asian art. They have collected South Asian art for more than 50 years.
“To have greater impact, it is necessary to increase the scholarship in South Asian art and media,” said Shireen and Afzal Ahmad. “Now there is a paucity of curators with knowledge and expertise in South Asian modern and contemporary art at mainstream museums. We have decided that one way we can make a change is by creating endowed positions at a few select institutions that have the leadership and expertise and understand our mission.
“We were impressed by Niall Atkinson, the previous chair of the Art History Department at the University of Chicago. Some of his decisions convinced us that he and his department, as well as the institution, were genuinely committed to our goal of fostering academic scholarship in South Asian art.”
The new visiting professor position will intersect with several departments, committees, and centers in the Humanities Division, including Art History, South Asian Languages and Civilizations (SALC), Cinema and Media Studies, the Committee on South Asian Studies, and the UChicago Center in Delhi. While South Asian art has a history extending thousands of years and straddling two continents, the study of its art history is relatively new in the U.S.
Faculty members chosen from South Asian Languages and Civilizations, Art History, and Cinema and Media Studies Departments will form the committee to select the visiting professor each year.
“Having this position would not only make us one of the few North American universities with multiple experts in the art of South Asia, but electrify the art historical and South Asian scholarly communities with the annual presence of distinguished scholars, curators, and critics of South Asian arts of the present and modern era,” said Andrei Pop, the Allan and Jean Frumkin Professor on the Committee on Social Thought, Department of Art History, and the College and chair of Art History at UChicago.
The Ahmads have a history of expanding the study of South Asian art and media. They expect to continue granting gifts that foster a better understanding for South Asian art and media in the U.S.
“South Asian art history is a vast area ranging from Himalayan and Buddhist art and architecture to exciting new developments in South Asian painting, sculpture, graffiti, street art, films, and photography,” said Rochona Majumdar, professor in the Departments of SALC and Cinema and Media Studies and chair of SALC. “This generous gift will enable students, faculty, and the scholarly community to learn more about this rich and growing domain in the South Asian humanities and also help us identify new areas of study and collaboration.”