Asian Art Museum in San Francisco to host Mithila art

The exhibition, available for public viewing September 7 to December 30, will include demonstrations and workshops


Ritu Jha

The Asian Art Museum in San Francisco will be hosting for the first time an exhibition on Mithila art painting, an art form practiced in the Mithila region of Bihar state in India and southeastern Nepal.


The museum has in the past hosted many exhibitions based on work from India. The current one is titled “Painting Is My Everything: Art from India’s Mithila Region.”


apanese Hippies, 1983, by Gopal Saha (Indian, b. approx. 1940). India; Bihar state, Mithila region. Ink and colors on paper. Asian Art Museum, Museum purchase, 1999.39.31. © Gopal Saha. Photograph © Asian Art Museum.

The exhibition will be available for public viewing September 7 to December 30.


“These materials are not shown in a long time and we wanted to be able to keep presence Indian art in our galleries,” Qamar Adamjee, exhibition curator at the Asian Art Museum, told indica.


“What is fascinating is the way through their creativity and through their art, women artists had a presence and voice in the region,” Adamjee said, adding that the topics addressed ranged from the personal and political to the social and religious.


According to a press note, it was a devastating earthquake in 1934 in Bihar that shattered homes that revealed this colorful world to British colonial officials. Captivated, they began documenting what had once been hidden from public view, sparking interest in the paintings beyond Mithila.


According to it, a drought in 1966 prompted a government-led initiative to encourage women to paint more on paper so as to sell their work commercially. This resulted in a life- and-community-changing source of female-generated income, often helping women earn more than their husbands, to buy land and pay off what were the exorbitant costs of getting daughters married.

Adamjee said the museum has been collecting painting from a variety of artists, some as old as eighty. She said over 30 paintings by 17 artists from all from the northeastern part of Bihar state, will be on display. She added that the look and feel of paintings the same theme changed drastically depending on the caste of the artist.

Radha and Krishna under a kadamba tree, 1985, by Karpoori Devi (Indian). India; Bihar state, Mithila region. Ink and colors on paper. Asian Art Museum, Museum purchase, 1999.39.47. © Karpoori Devi. Photograph © Asian Art Museum.


So while traditional high-caste Brahmin designs employ multiple colors, including vibrant blues and yellows, clerical-caste Kayastha linework is characterized by black-and-white and, occasionally, red pigmentation. Dusadh painters, originally from a pastoral group, rely on integrated patterns from their small protective tattoos, often seen on their arms and legs and typically consisting of geometric arrangements of floral and other motifs.


However, Adamjee said, today’s artists had shifted style based on what inspires them.


The Asian Art Museum will also host a week-long artist-in-residence program to help demonstrate what makes Mithila painting a robust “living” tradition.

Shalinee Kumari, an artist from India, will offer demonstrations and small-scale workshops in October.



Related posts

Leave a Reply