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Arts of Bengal: Wives, Mothers, Goddesses

November 25, 2009–September 19, 2010

Bengal (modern Bangladesh and eastern India) is a lush region of lotus pools, fish-filled rivers, and tiger-haunted forests punctuated by rice and banana fields, rural villages, and teeming cities. The domestic arts made by and for Bengali women during the 19th and 20th centuries include intricate embroidered quilts called kanthas, vibrant ritual paintings, and fish-shaped caskets and other implements created in resin-thread technique. Drawn from a common pool of motifs and ideas that reflect the unique environment of the region, these creations provide a rare view into women's everyday lives and thoughts.

Other arts, such as elaborate painted narrative scrolls and souvenir paintings from Kalighat near Calcutta, illustrate women's many roles, both domestic and divine. Representations of the great goddess Durga as beloved daughter, devoted wife, adoring mother, fierce warrior, and heroic victor epitomize the complex nature of female divinity—and of women themselves—in the stories and culture of Bengal.

Created in conjunction with the exhibition Kantha: The Embroidered Quilts of Bengal from the Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz and the Stella Kramrisch Collections on view in the Spain Gallery of the Museum's Perelman Building, Arts of Bengal: Wives, Mothers, Goddesses and the companion Arts of Bengal: Town, Temple, Mosque showcase works from the Museum's extensive holdings of Bengali vernacular arts.

Main Building


Yael Rice, Assistant Curator of Indian and Himalayan Art; Darielle Mason, The Stella Kramrisch Curator of Indian and Himalayan Art

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