‘Beyond Bollywood’ exhibit at MOHAI looks at the contributions of Indian Americans

‘Beyond Bollywood’ exhibit at MOHAI looks at the contributions of Indian Americans

By Sharmila Mukherjee

Special to The Seattle Times

Exhibition review


The traveling trunk says it all.

Placed at the entry of the exhibition “Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation,” on view at the Museum of History and Industry through Jan. 26, the trunk is the kind of luggage someone would carry with them from India to the United States, presumably in the late 1960s. It also seems to encapsulate the Indian immigrant experience.

Nestled inside the trunk is a figurine of the Hindu elephant deity, Lord Ganesha, believed to grant good luck. Other objects include a Ravi Shankar vinyl record, a photo frame, kitchen utensils. They convey a sense of talismanic protection against the potential disorientating effect of immigration.

Beyond Bollywood” is a traveling exhibition that started at the Smithsonian Asian American Pacific Center in 2014. At MOHAI, the exhibition’s intent is to educate viewers about the Indians who have come to America since the 1790s (there are now 3.3 million people of Indian origin who live in the U.S.), and to dispel stereotypes.

Large wall panels with charts, diagrams, graphs and statistics cover topics such as Indian customs, religions, traditions, visa processes. This is a data-heavy show, but curator Amy Bhatt makes learning pleasurable. Visitors will discover ways to drape a sari and get a primer on Indian spices, Hindu temples and deities, classical dance and music. But the exhibit also tends to focus too much on one socioeconomic segment of Indian Americans.

Bhatt has assembled many objects, big and small: old-time, black-and-white photographs plucked out of family albums, gorgeous saris, a pistachio grinder, a musical instrument and more. These are markers of the cultural heritage of Indians in America. The exhibition’s central premise is that rootedness in Indian traditions has allowed Indians in America to retain their distinct identity.

There are moments when the exhibition hints at something deeper, as in the case of the story of a motelier’s struggle to maintain what she calls an American face in public while retaining her Indian identity. There’s also a brief introductory section on the earliest generations of immigrants.

Read the rest @ https://www.seattletimes.com/entertainment/visual-arts/beyond-bollywood-exhibit-at-mohai-looks-at-the-contributions-of-indian-americans/


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