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Lokvani Talks To Sunitha Das

Nirmala Garimella

Sunitha Das’s name is not new among literary and art enthusiasts in New England. As Business Director of the popular children magazine Kahani, which focused on South Asia, she brought in a whole lot of value: It won the prestigious Parents’ Choice Award and evolved into a premier children’s magazine. Sunita also works as a gallery instructor at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. Ms. Das has an M.B.A. from Boston University, a B.S. in Information Systems from Purdue University, and a B.A. in Psychology from India.

Please tell us about your involvement with the MFA 


I've been a Gallery Instructor (GI) with the MFA for about 6 years now.  Other museums typically call us docents - but, at 50 years, the GI program (under the Education Department) is the oldest and most professional volunteer organization of its sort.  We are trained to conduct various tours for school groups from Grade 2 through 12 - from specific collection areas such as Europe or Asia etc. to general museum-wide tours - in conjunction with the Massachusetts learning standards.  After an initial six-month training in pedagogy, we continue our professional development by attending semester-long, rigorous courses taught by both our own curatorial staff as well as other leading experts in the field.  I've just been trained in the Art of the Americas (the magnificent new wing) and will go on to study Contemporary Art in the spring (for our new fabulous Linde Family Wing for contemporary art).  Last year alone 130+ GIs gave tours to over 25,000 school children!!


I'm also part of the Friends of Asia - this is a fee-based group of museum members who support, engage with and advocate for Asian art.  I will also be sitting on the Visiting Committee this year - and, believe me, I will be advocating for South Asian art.

Give us the background of the opening of the South Asian gallery in December at the MFA.


When I first started working at the MFA we had had no curator for South Asian Art for a while - which sort of made it feel like an orphan even though we have a very acclaimed collection!  But, once Laura Weinstein, the current dynamic Ananda Coomaraswamy Curator of South Asian and Islamic Art, joined us two years ago things changed.   In keeping with the extensive renovations and expansion of the museum, the South Asian gallery has now been moved and revamped.  By merging it with the South East Asian gallery, it will now be possible to see Indian Hindu and Buddhist art not just by itself but also in context: showcasing the great influence it had on this rich region.  Since the collection has been off-view for a year now, we GIs are anxiously awaiting its reopening in early December to show it off to our school groups!

Share with us some key highlights of the gallery.


Talking from the perspective of a GI, the gallery is now arranged in innovative groupings that allows for learning from different angles: chronologically (for example, the progression of early Buddhist art and how it changes as it spreads from India to other parts of Asia), geographically (for ex, comparing and contrasting the styles in the South - of the Pallavas - vs those of the East - the Pala period) or thematically (for ex, the goddess figure in these regions - my favorite!!). 


The wall text is being updated with fresh scholarship and diagrams and there are going to be some pieces on display from the archives that have not been on view for a very long time (for ex, a piece from the Ajanta and Ellora temples - apparently this is the only piece outside of India!)

Is there any other information of interest to share with Lokvani readers?


Adjoining this main sculptural gallery will be a shared (across Asian art) paintings gallery - which will give the museum the chance to display select works from its magnificent collection of Rajput and Deccani miniatures.  Laura also has plans to showcase contemporary Indian art in the future.

What I really would like to tell your readers is this:  If we care about our heritage, if we care how that heritage is displayed, if we care about expanding the Indian collection/influence in the museum, then vote with your feet!  Come into the museum, get involved, share your opinions.  Laura is extremely approachable, knowledgeable, enthusiastic and energetic, and has an ambitious agenda.  Here are just a few of the events she has on the calendar (also check the MFA website, www.mfa.org): 

-  Dec 15th "An Evening in India" (with a curator-led tour, a talk by the brilliant Vishakha Desai, President and CEO of Asia Society, NY, and an Indian dinner at Bravo restaurant), 

- an 8-week public course on India in the spring, 

-  Looking Together tours of the new gallery for the public, 

-  an set of workshops for teachers so that they can bring back their students to the museum 

It's an exciting time for Indian art at the museum - so come in and enjoy!

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