Ramayana focus of new exhibition at Met Museum

Rama, Sita and Lakshmana Begin their Life in the Forest. India, Punjab Hills, kingdom of Kangra, ca. 1800-1810. Opaque watercolor, gold and silver on paper. Promised Gift of Steven Kossak, The Kronos Collections. Photo: Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

NEW YORK – One of the major epic narratives of South Asia literature, the Ramayana, will be the focus of an upcoming exhibition opening at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, from August 10 through August 23, 2019.

‘Sita and Rama: The Ramayana in Indian Painting’ will be exhibited at the Florence and Herbert Irving Galleries.

Including seven promised gifts, ‘Sita and Rama: The Ramayana in Indian Painting’ will showcase 30 outstanding paintings that narrate the heroic and adventurous tale of Rama’s rescue of his beloved wife, Sita.

The works were produced for the Rajput and Pahari courts of north India between the 17th and 19th centuries and will be augmented by four textiles.

Highlights of the exhibition, which will be presented in two rotations, include a rare 19th-century painting titled ‘Tantric Form of Monkey God Hanuman’ that is a new addition to the Met collection. The work is a recent gift from Steven Kossak and this is the first time it is being displayed publicly.

The exhibition is made possible by The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Foundation Fund.

The paintings and textiles that will be on view capture the collective visual imagination of court artists in their efforts to give form to the dramatic 2,500-year-old Sanskrit narrative, which consists of more than 24,000 verses.

The Ramayana is attributed to the poet-sage Valmiki (ca. 400 B.C.) and has long been popular across South and Southeast Asia. It recounts the life of Rama, a legendary prince, whose wife, Sita, was abducted by the evil king Ravenna. Together with his brother Lakshmana and his ally Hanuman, Rama assembled a massive army of monkeys and bears and traveled to Sri Lanka to confront Ravana and rescue Sita.

The Ramayana also poses deep philosophical questions about kingship, morality, and Rama’s role as a divine avatar of Vishnu.

Other highlights of the exhibition include an early 19th-century masterpiece – Rama, Sita and Lakshmana Begin their Life in the Forest – that represents the sophisticated late Pahari painting tradition; a rare late 18th-century textile piece, ‘The Combat of Rama and Ravenna’; and an important group of six paintings from The Shangri Ramayana series dating from 1690 to 1710.

The exhibition is organized by Kurt Behrendt, Associate Curator in the Department of Asian Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.


Intricacies: Fragment and Meaning’ will be exhibited at the Aicon Gallery in New York, from August 8 through September 14, 2019.

The exhibition brings together artists who scrutinize the milieu and distill from it modes of production that are both ordered and complex.

Saba Qizilbash and Faiza Butt from Pakistan; Indian American-origin artists Rina Banerjee and Mequitta Ahuja from the US; and Peju Alatise from Nigeria, offer works that unveil and elaborate the intricacies that lie at the core of the human condition.

Presented together, the various works in the exhibition offer the viewer a liminal space to absorb and contemplate the relationship between part and whole, fragment and meaning.

Rina Banerjee. Upon first myth and empirical observation the hero her angel leaps in cry opens the moon to urge on a rain that may cleanse all from the sweat of her jealous man, 2013. Mixed media on wood panel. Courtesy of Aicon Gallery.

The New York-based Banerjee was born in Calcutta, and grew up in London and New York City.

Banerjee has mentioned in interviews that the inspiration for her art comes from her childhood memories of visiting her grandfather during his homeopathic treatments. Many of the images and visuals from her visits with her grandfather have stayed with her and can be seen in her art work, according to Wikipedia. Banerjee likes her artwork to be not static, but ever changing.

She completed an M.F.A. in Painting and Printmaking from Yale School of Art, Yale University in 1995, after graduating from Case Western Reserve University, Ohio with a B.S. in Polymer Engineering. Banerjee’s work has been exhibited at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and other notable museums.

Mequitta Ahuja. Material Support (Study III), 2017. Oil on canvas. Courtesy of Aicon Gallery.

The Baltimore, Maryland-based Ahuja creates works of self-portraiture that combine themes of myth and legend with personal identity.

Ahuja was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan to Indian and African-American parents, hailing from New Delhi and Cincinnati, respectively, according to Wikipedia. Ahuja grew up in a largely white community in Connecticut, and had little contact with African American communities and culture. Her upbringing in this environment is a common subject in her work.

Ahuja received her BA at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts in 1998, and her MFA at University of Illinois at Chicago in 2003, where she was mentored by contemporary artist Kerry James Marshall.

In 2007, in Ahuja’s debut exhibition in New York city, New York Times art critic Holland Cotter said of Ahuja’s work, “Referring to the artist’s African-American and East Indian background, the pictures turn marginality into a regal condition”. Ahuja’s art explores the social construction of issues such as race, gender, and identity through a technique of self-portraiture. To create her paintings, Ahuja relies on a three-step process that involves performance, photography, and drawing/painting, according to notes in Wikipedia.

She begins by developing a series of performances involving costumes, props, and poses. With the aid of a remote shutter, she then photographs her performances and documents them as “non-fictional source material.” Finally, she incorporates these photographs into her invented material, resulting in her completed self-portraits.

Ahuja’s work has been exhibited throughout the United States as well as in Paris, Brussels, Berlin, India, Dubai, and Milan. In 2010, Ahuja was profiled as an “Artist to Watch” in the February edition of ArtNews, and over the years she has been the recipient of multiple awards for her art, including the Tiffany Foundation Award in 2011, and a 2009 Joan Mitchell Grant. In 2018 she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: sujeet@newsindiatimes.com Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)



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