When most people of non-Indian descent in America think of India and its culture, images of “Bollywood” likely spring to mind. The slang term for India’s billion-dollar film industry immediately conjures up elaborate song-and-dance sequences, colorful costumes, and romantic plotlines that are the hallmark of the popular Hindi-language films produced in the city of Mumbai. But to the millions of Asian Indians and IndianAmericans currently living in the United States, such a narrow perception of Indian culture is dismissive of the wide array of contributions that Indians have made to our nation since its very inception. And a new traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian Institution seeks to celebrate the diverse accomplishments of Asian Indians and IndianAmericans, while dismantling pervasive stereotypes.

Titled Beyond Bollywood: IndianAmericans Shape the Nation, the exhibit kicked off a four-year tour of the U.S. at the Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey in May, and is scheduled to visit museums across the nation over the next several years. Seven different sections occupying over 5,000 square feet feature photographs, artifacts, and interactive audio stations that highlight the political, cultural, and civil rights contributions that Indians have made to our nation, from 1790, the first documented year that an Asian-Indian arrived in the United States, right up to modern times. Notable personalities featured in the exhibit include individuals, such as: Hargobind Khorana, the first IndianAmerican Nobel Prize recipient, Dalip Singh Saund, a prominent 1960’s-era congressman, and Naeem Khan, the designer who created a dress worn by first lady Michelle Obama at the 2012 White House Governors dinner, to name a few. [See Beyond Bollywood Honors IndianAmerican Culture, by Bill Nutt, The Daily Record, 8.May.2015.]

Masom Momoya, the curator for the exhibit, explained in a recent interview with The Washington Post that the inclusion of the word Bollywood in the exhibit’s title was a deliberate choice intended to encourage audiences to rethink their perceptions of Indian culture. “We wanted a title that people have a reference for, but this is not about Bollywood,” said Momoya. “The exhibition is going to take you beyond what you know about Indians and IndianAmericans.” Reflecting on the vivid color choice of mango, magenta, and bright plum for the exhibit’s walls, Momoya asserted that “our [Indian] culture is vibrant, so we wanted the gallery to reflect that.” Momoya also noted that New Jersey was an appropriate location for the exhibit’s kickoff, as it boasts over 300,000 residents of Asian-Indian descent, the highest percentage in the nation. [See Spring Preview Museums – Beyond Bollywood Passage to America, by Lonnae O’Neal Parker, The Washington Post, 31.Jan.2014.]

While hardworking and industrious IndianAmericans have contributed to our nation in vast and varied ways for centuries, pervasive and harmful cultural stereotypes continue to diminish their accomplishments. Beyond Bollywood seeks to challenge our perception of Indian culture by presenting an informative and interactive exhibit to an audience of millions as it travels across the nation. Momoya hopes that the exhibit not only highlights the multiple facets of IndianAmericans, but also brings together viewers as a whole to appreciate the pursuit of the American dream. “I see this exhibition as American history, not just IndianAmerican history,” she said. “There are so many parallels.”


Copyright © 2015, MURTHY LAW FIRM. All Rights Reserved