SALEM, MASS.- The Peabody Essex Museum
announces the appointment of Sona Datta, Ph.D., as its new curator of Indian and South Asian Art. Datta comes to PEM from the British Museum, London, where during her eight-year tenure as art historian and curator, she specialized in the visual culture of South Asia. At PEM, Datta will play a pivotal role in shaping the museum's program in South Asian art primarily through innovative exhibitions, interpretation and programming as well as strategic collection enhancement and research.
"Sona's expertise in Indian art from the medieval to the modern, as well as her demonstrated ability to present living artistic traditions, are perfectly in tune with our ambitions for Indian art at PEM," said Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, The James B. and Mary Lou Hawkes Chief Curator.
Datta's research in modern Indian art and especially the post-1947 art of Bengal are well-matched to the strengths of PEM's South Asian collection, especially the 19th-century vernacular arts of Bengal and PEM's world-class collection of Kalighat paintings. In recent years, Datta has turned her attention to modernism in Indian art and the wider South Asian region, particularly Pakistan and Bangladesh. Shortly after arriving at the British Museum in 2005, Datta co-curated the groundbreaking "Voices of Bengal" season. The exhibition made an installation out of a creative process, which set a new bar for exhibiting living traditions. The project attracted more people of South Asian extraction than any project in the British Museum's history. Datta's curatorial approach has been particularly successful in attracting new audiences and particularly engaging diaspora communities.
More recently, her acquisition of innovative modern art from Pakistan took the British Museum's engagement with contemporary South Asia in a new direction. The history of Pakistan is the subject of a new television series she is currently developing with the BBC.
Datta earned her B.A. in the History of Art from Kings College, Cambridge University, where she received the GWH Rylands prize for Excellence in the History of Art. She then completed her M.A. in South Asian studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and her Ph.D. from the Welsh School of Architecture, Cardiff University. Datta is a member of the Society of South Asian Studies and the American Council for Southern Asian Art. Born in London, she has also lived in India, Indonesia and Switzerland. She speaks Bengali and has studied Tamil and Sanskrit.
PEM's Indian Collection
PEM is home to the most important collection of modern-era Indian art, from colonial times to the present, outside India. In 2001, the acquisition of the Chester and Davida Herwitz Collection of post-Independence art from India established PEM as the first museum outside of India to focus on the achievements of its modern artists. The Herwitz Collection of post-1947 Indian paintings -- some 1,600 works by approximately 70 artists -- remains unparalleled in any American or European museum. Painting dominates the overall collection, in large measure because of the Herwitz Collection, but also because of its deep holdings in the vernacular Kalighat painting tradition: PEM's Kalighat paintings constitute one of the top three collections in the world.
PEM is preeminent internationally for representing the art of the modern era, from the period of British colonial rule to the present, in what is modern-day India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Additionally, the extensive Bhutanese textile collection is the most important in an American museum, and the museum has diverse works from various Southeast Asian cultures, principally from the Philippines, Thailand, Burma, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, as well as from Tibet and Nepal.