By Masum Momaya, Curator
As I write this, Smithsonian exhibition designers are putting the finishing touches on the gallery design for Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation. Come December, the 5000-square-foot exhibition on the second floor of the National Museum of Natural History will be adorned with artifacts, images, and works of art showcasing Indian American history. Contextualizing these items with visual elements to transform the gallery into an Indian American space has been a yearlong undertaking.
Last summer, I chose paint colors for the exhibition walls, deciding on marigold yellow, deep purple, and bright magenta to convey the vibrancy of material elements of Indian American culture, such as our garments and spices. Smithsonian designer Lynn Kawaratani and I visited an Indian clothing shop, grocery store, and my very own closet to identify visual elements to include in the gallery design. We photographed textile patterns, matched colors with a very large book of Pantone swatches, identified recurring motifs (such as paisleys), and chose the trusty, ever-present stainless steel thali as a frame to be used throughout the exhibition.
New York-based designer Minjal Dharia gave an Indian-inspired treatment to the exhibition title, which will be carried in all the exhibition text panels, and designed various postcards to help us spread the word using a few of photographer Preston Merchant’s images. Recently, we put out a call to the community to collect both Indian and American shoes, many of which will grace the exhibition entrance.
Colors, patterns, motifs, fonts, and commonplace items such as the thali will merge to create the backdrop for telling our history. We look forward to sharing both the educational and aesthetic experience of Indian America with you later this year.