From the first Indian Congressman to the creator of Hotmail, the impact of Indians and our culture on America is covered in Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation, the first-ever exhibition on Indian American heritage and their contributions to the United States. Ready to be unveiled in a few days at Washington DC’s Smithsonian Museum, the exhibit, curated by writer and curator Masum Momaya, is a first for the Smithsonian Asia Pacific American Centre. The exhibition spans the late-1700s to the current day, and includes political, professional and cultural contributions of Indian Americans. So why the name Beyond Bollywood? “We chose the title and the theme very intentionally to attract visitors and suggest that we intended to go beyond stereotypes. While the exhibition takes Bollywood as a point of departure for the stories we’re telling, we paired it with “Beyond” to show that we’re a lot more than you think we are,” shares Momaya, an interdisciplinary social scientist.
Aiming to bring about contemporary conversations on ethinicity and immigration, and rekindle emotional connections of the visitors to Indian American heritage, Momaya is keen on non-Indians walking away with a better understanding of this society. Highlighting one of the most challenging parts of her curatorial work, she says, “We spent more than a year pursuing - and eventually borrowed -a dress by Indian American designer Naeem Khan, worn by First Lady Michelle Obama at the 2012 Governors Dinner. Khan comes from a long line of embroiderers and designers, dating back to the Mughal courts in India. It’s literally an example of Indian Americanness being woven into the fabric of the garment.” A six year long crowd sourced effort, the exhibit is a result of the cooperation of the Indian American community in providing photos, documents and artifacts. Hoping to reach out to small towns in America and widen canvasses, Momaya signs off with a quote from the exhibition, “Indian Americans are as diverse as America itself.”
At the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History,Washington DC, from February 2014 to August 2015.