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The Peabody Essex Museum Hosts A Dedication Event

Chitra Parayath

On October 1, 2003, the Peabody Essex Museum, America’s oldest continuously operating museum, celebrated the establishment of the ‘Herwitz Gallery’ of Contemporary Indian Art at a special reception. The museum hosted over 200 people for this lavish cultural evening. The attendees included distinguished American and Indian American art aficionados from all over New England who came to support this museum that is a favorite destination for art lovers and casual visitors alike.

The Indian community was clearly mobilized, to attend this event and support the museum’s initiative for nurturing Indian art and culture, by Prashant H. Fadia, President & CEO of Abacus Software Group, Inc. and Overseer, Board of Trustees and Overseers of the Peabody Essex Museum and his wife Saloni Fadia.

Prashant was eloquent in his praise of the leadership and support provided for this event by PEM’s President & CEO, Dan Monroe and President of the Board of Trustees, John Parker. He also made a special mention of the efforts put in the perfect planning, of the event by the museum staff.

The Herwitz Gallery is the first American museum exhibition space dedicated solely to modern and contemporary art from southern Asia. The new gallery is part of a $125 million transformation of PEM. The Herwitzs, began to collect M.F. Husain’s works in 1966 and other Indian works by prominent and lesser known artists. It is estimated that in the next 35 years, they collected approximately 8,000 paintings. The Chester & Davida Herwitz Gallery of Indian Contemporary Art covers 67 of India's leading artists of the second half of the 20th century, including M.F. Husain, Tyeb Mehta, Manjit Bawa, and Ganesh Pyne and Bikash Bhattacharjee. Chester Herwitz was honored in 1997 with the Indo-American Society award for his contribution to the development of Indian art.

As soft strains of the Veena filled the air, prominent members from the Indian community walked around talking, exclaiming in wonder about the collection of paintings at display at the PEM that reflect the development of many of India's established and emerging artists. The museum was open to the guests all evening and this writer overheard more than one party marvel at the prize collections on display at the museum.

Said Saloni Fadia, who alongside her husband worked tirelessly with the museum staff and the caterers to select an exquisite and a balanced Indian menu, “This is a celebration we wanted to share with our community. We invited our friends and artists, also Charter members of TiE and board members of the Indian Medical Association, IMANE to have an overall participation in this significant event. Prashant put in a lot of effort to expand the reach of the museum in different geographical areas beyond the North Shore.”

Prashant Fadia was also instrumental in contacting Mr. Pramathesh Rath, counsel general of India, inviting him on behalf of the museum, to attend the event and represent India. Mr. Rath traveled from New York to attend the dedication and in his short speech, commended the museum for bringing Indian Contemporary art to the forefront.

Chester Herwitz’s brother David Herwitz spoke feelingly about how his brother would’ve loved to be present at the event which commemorated his life’s passion : namely art. Also gracing the event was David’s wife Carla.

While collections of the traditional arts of India such as Hindu and Buddhist temple sculpture and Indian miniatures are well established and exhibited in museums throughout the world, the significance of the art of post-colonial India has only recently begun to be recognized. Contemporary Indian art represents a radical break from the past because Indian artists are not trained solely as apprentices in established styles. Color, form, texture and line are often the focus of their art, conveying personal, regional, national, and universal themes.

The Peabody Essex Museum has long been a pioneer in the study and presentation of Indian art in the U.S. The museum began collecting the contemporary art and culture from India shortly after it's founding as the East India Marine Society in 1799, and has continued to build its Indian collections since that time. Today, its holdings include thousands of works from India, spanning three centuries of creations from the 18th through the 20th centuries, including paintings and drawings; works in clay, wood and metal; embroideries; furniture; and a large collection of 19th century photographs.

Prashant Fadia reminded us that, “The museum’s most recent major acquisition was an exceptional collection of 500 Kalighat paintings, a popular and innovative popular art that flourished in Calcutta, India, during the nineteenth century.” The collection was also developed by Chester and Davida Herwitz.

The museum is open daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursdays until 9 p.m. PEM is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Admission to the Museum Shop is free. Adults $12; seniors $10; students $8; children 16 and under and residents of Salem free. Call 866-745-1876, or visit their Web site at www.pem.org.

Photo credits - Bharat Parmar

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