Mathers Museum to host Smithsonian exhibition on history of Indian Americans

  • Jan. 15, 2016


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University's longstanding engagement with India is reflected in the first Smithsonian exhibition hosted by the Mathers Museum of World Cultures. The Smithsonian traveling exhibition "Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation," which details the history of Indian Americans and their contributions to the United States from the 1700s to the present, will be on view at the Mathers Museum on Jan. 30 to April 10.

Created by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, the first-of-its-kind exhibition from the Smithsonian features Indian Americans' migration experiences, working lives, political struggles, and cultural and religious contributions.

"IU has always had a strong tradition of international education and international engagement, culminating most recently in the establishment of the School of Global and International Studies and our growing network of global gateway offices," said Michael S. Dodson, director of the Madhusudan and Kiran C. Dhar India Studies Program. "The hosting of this exhibition on the Indian-American experience demonstrates a further commitment to understanding the relationship between the international and the domestic, and in particular how India has helped to shape the modern United States and conversely how migration to the U.S. has changed India."

From the builders of some of the early railroads to civil rights pioneers and digital technology entrepreneurs, Indian Americans have long been an inextricable part of American life. Approximately 17 million people in the United States are of Asian and Pacific Islander descent. Among them, about 3.4 million are of South Asian descent -- one of the country's fastest-growing ethnic groups.

One in every 100 Americans has a family connection to India. Indian immigrants worked in lumber mills, toiled on farms and established prosperous trading routes that are still in use today. Through a collection of photographs, artifacts, art and interactive learning stations, visitors will experience the Indian-American story and explore the many dynamic roles Indian Americans have played in shaping America.

A number of special programs will be presented at the Mathers Museum in conjunction with the exhibition, including a special family craft day from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 7. All of the programs will be free and open to the public. In addition, a free but ticketed film series will take place at IU Cinema.

Jason Jackson, director of the museum, said the associated programming will not only "deepen and enrich our understanding of Indian-American experiences, it will also highlight the role our museum plays in connecting our campus and community and in making humanities scholarship public-facing."

A public exhibit opening at 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 30, will feature comments by IU Bloomington Provost Lauren Robel and a performance of classical South Indian songs by Lavanya Narayanan.

A spring lecture series beginning Thursday, Feb. 4, will feature scholars from around the country: Pawan Dhingra, professor and chair of sociology and professor of American studies at Tufts University; Seema Sohi, assistant professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado Boulder; Vijay Prashad, the George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History and professor of international studies at Trinity College; and Vivek Bald, documentary filmmaker and associate professor of writing and digital media at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

A roundtable on the Indian diaspora will be presented from 1 to 4 p.m. Friday, April 15, with a number of scholars participating, including Sandhya Shukla, associate professor of English and director of American studies at University of Virginia; Maia Ramnath, associate professor of history and Asian studies at Pennsylvania State University; and Aisha Khan, associate professor of anthropology, New York University.

The Mathers Museum's presentation of "Beyond Bollywood" and accompanying programming has been generously funded by Indiana University alumnus Robert N. Johnson, the Madhusudan and Kiran C. Dhar India Studies Program, the Asian American Studies Program and the Department of American Studies. 

For more information about the exhibition, accompanying programming or additional photographs, email

About Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition ServiceSITES has been sharing the wealth of Smithsonian collections and research programs with millions of people outside Washington for more than 60 years. SITES connects Americans to their shared cultural heritage through a wide range of exhibitions about art, science and history, which are shown wherever people live, work and play. Exhibition descriptions and tour schedules are available at

About the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center: The center provides vision, leadership and support for Asian and Pacific Islander American initiatives for the Smithsonian Institution and works to better reflect their contributions to the American experience, world culture, and the understanding of our planet and the natural world throughout Smithsonian Institution collections, research, exhibitions, outreach and education programs.

Related Links

The Smithsonian exhibition "Beyond Bollywood" includes an image of singer Shrimati Sanjukta Ghosh, left, and Indian tabla player Pandit Shankar Ghosh with their son Bikram, circa 1970.

The Smithsonian exhibition "Beyond Bollywood" includes an image of singer Shrimati Sanjukta Ghosh, left, and Indian tabla player Pandit Shankar Ghosh with their son Bikram, circa 1970. | Photo by Ali Akbar Khan Foundation

Print-Quality Photo

Media Contacts

Judy Kirk

  • Mathers Museum of World Cultures
  • Office (812) 855-1696