Three Indian-Americans, one Pakistani-origin artist win prestigious Guggenheim fellowship

Pomona College Associate Professor of Art Sandeep Mukherjee received the prestigious 2017 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship granted on the basis of demonstrated exceptional creative ability in the arts. (Photo:

Four South Asian artists and academics, including three of Indian and one of Pakistani origin, are among 173 recipients of the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship for 2017.

The Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation announced April 6, that the winners were chosen from among 3,000 applicants in the annual competition which started in 1925, and which has produced scores of Nobel laureates, Fields Medalists, Turing Award winners, poets laureate, members of the various national academies, winners of the Pulitzer Prize, and other important, internationally recognized honors. The amounts of the grants vary and are aimed at supporting winners for up to a year they can freely work on their projects.

The three of Indian origin include Sandeep Mukherjee, in the Fine Arts category, Anthropologist Shalini Shankar, and Pramila Vasudevan, a choreographer. Mavish Chishti, of Pakistani origin, also won in the Fine Arts category.

An industrial engineer by training, Mukherjee is associate professor of Art at Pomona College, Claremont, California, and has worked in painting, drawing and installation. He told News India Times he had been drawing since he was a kid. “Kids stop drawing, I continued to do so,” Mukherjee said. His creations are influenced by “My life, living in different cultures, studying different disciplines,” and having an “internal imperative” to translate that into what are process-oriented and improvisational works. His “impulse” he said came from the time he wanted to show his blind grandmother what he saw and learnt that she saw things just as well as he did, just in a different way.

The Los Angeles-based artist, originally from Pune, has works displayed in numerous public collections, including those of MOCA, Los Angeles; MOMA, New York; LACMA; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art in New Delhi and the Jumex Collection, Mexico City.

His two projects for the year-long Guggenheim Fellowship involve painted and folder aluminum sculptures, including using his 2006 Mini Cooper hatchback as a mold.

Anthropologist Shalini Shankar, winner of the 2017 Guggenheim Fellowship. (Photo: Jim Prisching)

Anthropologist Shankar will be based in Brooklyn, N.Y. during her fellowship and will research Generation Z, exploring how this demographic category can be defined in ways that more centrally account for the contributions of immigrants and minorities, according to the Guggenheim press release.

Shankar has written and studied the emerging generation of Indian-Americans and received numerous grants and fellowships. Her books include Beeline: What Spelling Bees Reveal about Generation Z’s New Path to Success (Basic Books, May 2018); Advertising Diversity: Ad Agencies and the Creation of Asian American Consumers (Duke University Press, 2015), and Desi Land: Teen Culture, Class, and Success in Silicon Valley (Duke University Press, 2008). Her co-edited volume Language and Materiality: Theoretical and Ethnographic Explorations (with Jillian Cavanaugh) is forthcoming with Cambridge University Press.

She has a B.A. in Anthropology from Wesleyan University in 1994 and a Ph.D. in Anthropology from New York University in 2003.

Choreographer and Bharatanatyam artist Pramila Vasudevan, winner of the 2017 Guggenheim Fellowship.

Vasudevan is a choreographer and interdisciplinary artist based in Minneapolis, whose major influences and teachers include Dr. Bala Nandakumar, Roshan Vajifdar Ghosh, Ranee Ramaswamy, Nirmala Rajasekar, Dr. Ananya Chatterjea, Piotr Szyhalski, and Steve Dietz, according to the Guggenheim press release. She has more than three decades of experience in Bharatanatyam and contemporary Indian dance, plus a B.F.A. in Interactive Media and a B.A. in Political Science.

She is the founder and Artistic Director of Aniccha Arts (2004), an experimental arts group which is best known for the all-night outdoor performance project ‘Census’ (2016) and ‘In Habit: Living Patterns’ (2012), that thousands came to see at the Northern Spark Festival; Her production, ‘Every Other’ (2015), a site-specific installation performance at the Grain Belt Studios, was nominated for an ‘Outstanding Performance’ Sage award.

Vasudevan is a 2016 McKnight Choreographer Fellow. Currently, she is a resident artist at Pillsbury House Theatre and the Southern Theater.

Mahwish Chishty, originally from Lahore, recipient of the 2017 Guggenheim Fellowship (Photo:Rachel Suzanne Smith)

Chishty, who was initially trained as a miniature painter from the National College of Arts, Lahore, Pakistan, has combined new media and conceptual work with her traditional practice. Chishty became interested in military drones after her visit to Pakistan in 2011, and camouflages modern war machines with folk imagery to draw attention to the complexity of culture, politics and power.

Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally and most recently Chishty had a solo exhibition at the Imperial War Museum in London ending March 19.

In 2015, she was awarded residencies at Yaddo, Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago, IL; and Vermont Studio Center, Vermont, N.Y.



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