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South Asian Art
PEM’s South Asian collection represents a complicated legacy of intercultural influence and exchange.
By the end of the 18th century, Salem merchants joined their European rivals in a lucrative trade with South and Southeast Asia. The earliest American traders who traveled to the Indian subcontinent went in search of fine cottons, silks, and fragrant sandalwood, as well as sugar, ginger, and indigo. India was then, and is today, a land of tremendous diversity and paradox — a vast multitude of cultures, languages, and faiths — where the distant and more recent pasts flow seamlessly into the present.
Unlike most other institutions that privilege the classical art traditions of South Asia, PEM gives prominence to works from the 18th century to today that speak of global interaction. Among the highlights of PEM’s South Asian collection are its internationally renowned holdings of 19th-century Kalighat paintings, such as Hanuman Revealing Rama and Sita in His Heart. Taking their name from a temple to the goddess Kali, these lively watercolors were first sold to local laypeople and later became popular with Western travelers seeking inexpensive curiosities and conversation pieces to take home.
Explore some highlights from the collection