Asian Art Museum Takes You “Beyond Bollywood”: A new art show celebrating 2000 years of the heritage of dance in South Asia

By Sonia Dhami-

America is celebrating the Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage this month. What would be a better way to commemorate this than by visiting the latest art show at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco titled “Beyond Bollywood”. The show explores 2000 years of the heritage of dance from temples to royal courts to modern movie classics in the Indian sub-continent and South Asia.

 Maharaja Sher Singh and companions watching a dance performance, approx. 1850. Pakistan; Lahore. Opaque watercolors and gold on paper. H. 36.1 cm x W. 45.9 cm. San Diego Museum of Art, Edwin Binney 3rd Collection, 1990.1348.

Through July 10, 2023, this stunning exhibit features more than 120 artworks borrowed from 20 of the finest museums and private collections across America.

As with the museum’s recent blockbuster teamLab: Continuity exhibition (2021-2022), visitors will be thrilled by the experiential aspects of the exhibition, which take full advantage of the theatrical and technical capabilities of the museum’s new Akiko Yamazaki and Jerry Yang Pavilion—from subtle musical backdrops to gallery-spanning video installations.

As one walks through the many rooms and spaces, one encounters historic and contemporary sculpture, painting, textiles, jewelry, and photographs from countries including India, Pakistan, Nepal, Tibet, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Indonesia.

Dancing villagers, approx. 1730. Attributed to Pandit Seu (Indian, 1680–1740). Opaque watercolors on paper. H. 24.8 cm x W. 36.2 cm (image); H. 27.3 cm x W. 38.7 cm (sheet). Los Angeles County Museum of Art, from the Nasli and Alice Heeramaneck Collection, Museum Associates Purchase, M.77.19.24.

“The world loves Bollywood films for their famously elaborate choreography, and we wanted our community to be able to appreciate the deep historical, spiritual—and even economic and political—roots of dance across South and Southeast Asia, as well as parts of the Himalayas,” says Jay Xu, Director and CEO of the Asian Art Museum. “Big ideas, the best art, unforgettable experiences—that’s how you go Beyond Bollywood and get to the sublime spectacle of dance and the artworks that depict it.”

Co-curated by Forrest McGill, Wattis Senior Curator of South and Southeast Asia at the Asian Art Museum and Ainsley M. Cameron, Curator of South Asian Art, Islamic Art, and Antiquities, Cincinnati Art Museum, the exhibit is divided into five thematic galleries: Destruction and Creation; Devotion; Subjugation; Glorification; and Celebration.

“There are few major world cultures in which gods dance to convey matters of such divine seriousness. By arranging artworks across these five themes we reveal how much dance, and the art that depicts it, enriches and connects this massive, diverse geography of peoples, places, and beliefs,” explains McGill. “The goal is for audiences—whether already familiar with these dance traditions or encountering them for the first time—to come away with a fresh appreciation for the skill of both the artist memorializing a dance and the dancers themselves, as well as the raw emotion and pure devotion that ignites them.”

Armlet with Krishna overcoming the serpent Kaliya, approx. 1850–1900. India; Chennai, Tamil Nadu state. Gold, opalescent glass, and topaz. H. 10.8 cm x W. 7 cm x D. 7.9 cm. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Purchased with funds provided by the Nasli and Alice Heeramaneck Collection, Museum Associates Purchase, M.2002.83.
Dancing Ganesha, approx. 1500–1700. India; Karnataka state. Copper alloy. H. 50.5 cm x W. 33 cm. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Purchased with funds provided by Harry and Yvonne Lenart, M.86.126.

Excitingly, each thematic section opens with a single historic artwork of exceptional importance, enhanced by a special treatment of dramatic lighting, music, and immersive video e.g. the iconic Chola dynasty bronze “Shiva Nataraja, the Lord of Dance” welcomes the guests exemplifying destruction & creation. By establishing a “tone” for each theme, visitors will be able to enter each thematic gallery prepared to view artworks through this specific emotional lens of awe, longing, fear & release, reverence and celebration.

Even beyond the art on display, viewers can enjoy live pop-up dance performances in the exhibition galleries, dance events and Bollywood film shows as well as art activities on special Family Fun days.

Beyond Bollywood reveals the enduring capacity of dance to inspire a diverse range of artists and audiences alike. “We hope visitors will come away with a transformed notion of the importance and power of dance,” says co-curator Forrest McGill, “what it has meant in the past, and what it can mean in their own lives today.”

Beyond Bollywood is organized by the Asian Art Museum and the Cincinatti Art Museum and co-curated by Wattis Senior Curator of South and Southeast Asian Art Forrest McGill and Ainsley M. Cameron, curator of South Asian Art, Islamic Art and Antiquities at the Cincinnati Art Museum. An exhibition catalog published by the Asian Art Museum includes essays by McGill, Cameron, Laura Weinstein, Padma Kaimal, and Esha Niyogi De.

About the Asian Art Museum

Located in the heart of San Francisco, the museum is home to one of the world’s finest collections of Asian and Asian American art, with more than 20,000 awe-inspiring works ranging from ancient jades and ceramics to contemporary video installations. Dynamic special exhibitions, cultural celebrations and public programs for all ages provide rich art experiences that unlock the past and spark questions about the future.





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