When Dr. Deepali Dewan speaks of some of her favourite artifacts among the Royal Ontario Museum’s (ROM) South Asian collection – one of the most extensive outside of India – it is clear she has a personal relationship with these incomparable objects.
She admires a seventh-century stone sculpture of Shiva (Ekamukhalinga) “for the brightness of its white marble and the delicate way the curls were carved in the hair that frames the face,” says Dr. Dewan, senior curator in the Department of World Cultures at the ROM.
“I also love the small metal icon of the liberated soul – currently on display in the ROM’s Sir Christopher Ondaatje South Asian Gallery – made from nothing more than a sheet of brass with a silhouette of the human body cut out from it, projecting its presence through an absence.”
It is this personal reverence – as well as understanding and respect for the new knowledge about history and culture that artifacts can provide – that has inspired the strategic acquisitions with which Dr. Dewan and her colleagues built this renowned collection.
Philanthropist and entrepreneur Dan Mishra echoes Dr. Dewan’s admiration for the ROM’s South Asian collection. “Throughout its long history, South Asian art and culture has had an important influence on shaping our modern world,” says Mr. Mishra. “The ROM’s collection beautifully reflects the stories and contributions of one of the world’s oldest civilizations.”
An extraordinary $5-million gift from Mr. Mishra – to be paid in full in 2017 – will establish an endowed curatorial position and sustainable funding for ROM research, exhibitions, public engagement and learning activities in order to advance awareness and recognition of South Asia’s contributions to the arts. This landmark gift represents the largest donation ever to the museum’s South Asian section.
“I am proud to support the ROM’s commitment to creating a greater public understanding and appreciation of South Asian culture, and broadening the institution’s stewardship and expertise in this area,” says Mr. Mishra, who came to Canada from India as a student in 1969.
Mr. Mishra’s philanthropy will help to establish the ROM as an engaging, world-leading hub for the creation and sharing of new knowledge and understanding about South Asian art and culture.
The new Dan Mishra Curatorship of South Asian Art & Culture will be held by Dr. Dewan. “An endowed curatorship is the foundation on which a broad and exciting range of programs on art and culture can be built. It is the stage from which a network of engagement can be established,” she says. “These initiatives will strengthen the ROM’s role as an essential destination for diasporic communities – an important place to value and celebrate their shared cultural heritage as South Asians and as Canadians.”
The ROM’s South Asian collection was initially shaped by the museum’s founder, Dr. Charles Currelly, and facilitated by Canada’s association with the British Empire. It has significantly expanded since Dr. Dewan joined the museum in 2002, from 3,500 to 10,000 objects, particularly into the contemporary, popular and photographic arts. The collection now encompasses the more than 5,000-year art history of the region.
Almost 20 years ago, families, individuals and organizations from the South Asian community came together to help the ROM create the Sir Christopher Ondaatje South Asian Gallery, Canada’s first – and still only – permanent gallery of South Asian art. Their contributions also made it possible to partially endow the first Curatorship of South Asian Art & Culture, establish an acquisition program and endow the Ancient Echoes/Modern Voices Programs Fund.
In addition to being one of the leading collections in the western world, the ROM’s South Asian collection is recognized internationally for its strengths in early Buddhist art from Gandhara, export Indian textiles, later Mughal and Pahari miniature painting, and photography. Through acclaimed research, exhibitions and programs, the museum has delighted audiences and shared new knowledge, attracting prominent researchers from around the world.
“We are extraordinarily grateful to Dan Mishra for his visionary gift, which will have a lasting impact on the museum and future generations of visitors,” says Josh Basseches, the ROM’s director and CEO. “The Dan Mishra South Asian Initiative represents a transformational opportunity to enhance our research, exhibitions, public engagement and learning activities in new and exciting ways. Through Dan’s generosity, the ROM will have the resources to build on its global reputation as a leading centre of scholarship in South Asian art and culture. As we celebrate Canada’s 150th year, I can think of no better gift than one that deepens the ties within the culturally diverse mosaic that defines Canada.”