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As one of the few major New York City museums not in Manhattan, the Brooklyn Museum holds a unique reputation in the city. Not only do they display multiple curated exhibits and an extensive permanent collection, but also they are known for their popular social engagement. This museum has put in much effort to redefine its role in the Brooklyn community by providing multiple free events and using their physical space as a venue for local performers. Curator of the Asian Art galleries, Joan Cummins explained how the Museum has “changed their personality” to focus on social justice and become a “community-based museum.” Their events always have great attendance and for events like their First Saturday parties, a monthly free program with live performances and activities, admission can actually be very competitive due to high demand.

The South Asian art work is located on the second floor, in the “Arts of Asia and the Islamic World” gallery. As almost all the pieces have been donated and not acquired individually by the museum, Cummins shared how it creates a narrower view of the rich history of South Asian art. She explains how the collection includes a plethora of sculptures of North and Central Indian stone statues but not many South Indian bronzes, creating a more one-sided view. Cummins oversees all of Asian art, but her Ph.D. and research has focused on Indian art specifically. She aims to bring light to the gaps in the collection through text on the walls in order to showcase how diverse South Asian art truly is and avoid stereotyping. Her expertise can be seen in the detailed descriptions of the objects as well as design choices like the deep blue color of the walls which compliments the orange-red tones of the stone in many of the sculptures.

During the interview, Cummins also addressed the social aspect of the museum and how there have been no events targeting the South Asian galleries. The South Asian viewership of the museum is very low, so Cummins caters the gallery to an audience with very low familiarity of South Asian art and culture. The low South Asian attendance can also be attributed to the fact that the Asian gallery was closed for eleven years and recently reopened last year. Cummins also believes that there are fewer South Asians in Brooklyn and in New York City as a whole. When asked about Little Bangladesh in Kensington or other communities in Queens, Cummins hypothesized that the Bengali or Nepali demographics might not be interested in the collection which focuses on the Northern and Western art traditions.

The beautiful South Asian artworks in the Brooklyn Museum feel like a hidden gem for enthusiasts, with highlights like the carved ivory Mughal Priming Horn or the Standing Durga bronze statue. The gallery’s relative novelty signifies the beginning of a fresh chapter for the museum’s history as well as for the South Asian communities across NYC. The staff and administration’s recent decisions feel genuine in the larger decolonizing movement, but it also reveals the tremendous time and effort it takes to build up a community, especially one that is not catered to in the arts. Hopefully with more participation from the South Asian community, the Brooklyn Museum will further their goals and continue to create change.


Insiya Motiwala studies Art History and Interactive Media at New York University. Her academic research focuses on property and labor in art, including collectivist craft based artwork, and museum administration. Her first hand experience of the textile industry during her childhood in Karachi, Pakistan has created a long standing interest in fiber arts as well.

Insiya studies art history and specializes in museum administration and art as property. This is reflected in her reviews as she highlights questions of management including the goal of a museum as well the role of the audience. Her work covers art spaces in NYC consisting of the many popular museums as well as smaller galleries. As a Pakistani immigrant, Insiya’s personal experience of South Asian art is through decorative folk art, textiles and other mediums that are not traditionally considered “high art.” She visited and reviewed a total of five institutions throughout the summer; Aicon Gallery, Rubin Museum, Met Museum, Asia Society Museum and Brooklyn Museum.

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