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New Carlos Museum exhibit explores depictions of Indian gods and goddesses

The newest exhibit at the Carlos Museum explores contemporary portrayals of Indian gods and goddesses. Image credit: Abhishek Singh (Indian, born 1982). “Let Go” (from “KRISHNA: A Journey Within”), 2010. Digital print. Lent by the artist.

March 13, 2020 

Editor's note: Many events have been canceled or postponed in accordance with current university policy on the COVID-19 outbreak. Visit event websites for more details. Visit the Coronavirus Updates for the Emory Community website to learn more about how Emory is responding to COVID-19.


What does it mean to see and be seen by the divine? What does it mean to see the divine in new ways?

These are the questions underlying “Transcendent Deities of India: The Everyday Occurrence of the Divine,” an exhibition opening at the Michael C. Carlos Museum on Jan. 18. More than 70 works of art by Raja Ravi Varma, Manjari Sharma and Abhishek Singh explore the visual communion between humans and the divine.

For Hindus in India, images of gods and goddesses are an integral part of religious practice. These images inspire worshippers and artists alike, populating the art of the region for thousands of years and demonstrating their power through hundreds of millions of daily encounters during rituals at temples, shrines and other settings within India and the broader diaspora. 

“Transcendent Deities of India” explores the gods and goddesses through photographs, digital works, drawings, paintings and modern chromolithographs. Each artist approaches the subject from a different angle.

Raja Ravi Varma: Prints that popularized his subjects 

Raja Ravi Varma (1848–1906) was an Indian artist whose paintings are considered to be among the best examples of the fusion of Indian traditions with the style and techniques of European academic art. Varma's paintings were well regarded, but it was his vision for distributing his images widely through chromolithography that ensured his continuing renown. 

He founded several presses to make his images more accessible to the general public; as a result, reproductions of his artwork depicting Hindu gods and goddesses could be found in many homes and businesses. As the works in the exhibition demonstrate, owners of these prints frequently had them embellished with fabric, embroidery and other materials to further adorn the deities depicted.

Manjari Sharma: Photography enlivens tradition

Hindu deities historically have been depicted predominantly through sculpture and painting. Manjari Sharma, who moved to the U.S. to earn her MFA in photography, chose to turn her lens to the deities she had grown up with in India.

Sharma’s elaborately staged “Darhsan” series came to fruition through her collaboration with a team of Mumbai-based artisans, sculptors and painters, whose sets, costumes and styling transform models into archetypal representations of Hindu deities. The title “Darshan” comes from the Sanskrit word meaning “vision” or “view,” and refers to the experience of connection between deity and viewer.

Abhishek Singh: Reimagining India’s epic narratives

Abhishek Singh's art reimagines subjects drawn from the major epic narratives of India such as the Mahabharata and Ramayana, connecting the spiritual and the symbolic to the fantastic. Singh’s dynamic contemporary perspective incorporates graphic novels and animation and reflects conceptual concerns around the intersection between the temporal and the sacred by rendering traditional subjects anew. 

A consummate draftsman, he utilizes traditional images along with modern representations such as those of Raja Ravi Varma to demonstrate the ongoing relevance of these gods and goddesses to contemporary life. He will be in residence at Emory through Jan. 21.

“Transcendent Deities” and Emory students

As with other Carlos Museum exhibitions, “Transcendent Deities” will be utilized by Emory faculty in their courses.

“As an assistant professor in the Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies, I teach a first-year seminar on Hindu gods and goddesses,” said Harshita Mruthinti Kamath. “This spring, my class will be held at the Carlos Museum, and part of our course objectives will focus on understanding the materiality and everyday occurrences of the divine as featured in the Transcendent Deities exhibition. The students will also visit the Hindu Temple of Atlanta and conclude the semester by creating their own digital storytelling project inspired by a piece in the museum’s permanent collection or this special exhibition.”

Students also will be able to experience the art of India through Student Studio, a free monthly drop-in art-making event. Student Studio projects are inspired by artwork in the museum’s permanent collection and special exhibitions, and this semester’s projects will be drawn from “Transcendent Deities of India.” On Friday, Jan. 24, from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m., students are invited try woodblock printing and create textiles like those depicted in the exhibition.

“Transcendent Deities of India: The Everyday Occurrence of the Divine” is organized by Asia Society Texas Center. In Atlanta, it has been made possible through generous support from the Michael C. Carlos Museum Visiting Board, Chai Pani Restaurant Group and the City of Atlanta, Mayor's Office of Cultural Affairs.

The exhibit is on view Jan. 18 through Oct. 18 and will include several related events for children and adults.

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