Skip to main content

Show and Tell: 'City Dwellers' at Seattle Art Museum

Published on: September 16, 2014

Untitled (Taxi), 2003-2006, Subodh Gupta, Indian, b. 1964, face mounted photo on plexiglass, 36 3/4 x 54 3/4 x 1 1/4 in., Collection of Sanjay Parthasarathy and Malini Balakrishnan. © Subodh Gupta Gopa

If you're interested in exploring Indian culture with your children, one starting place is the vibrant new exhibit at Seattle Art Museum, City Dwellers: Contemporary Art from India. Through its display of the work of 12 artists, the exhibit examines contemporary culture in India as well as age-old traditions, from photographs of revered temples to sculptures of iconic modes of transportation to celebrity stills.

To me, the exhibit offers insights into the modernization of traditions and the dilemma of moving on, while holding on to one’s roots.

India Shining V (Gandhi with iPod), 2008, Debanjan Roy, Indian, b. 1975, fiberglass with automotive paint, 66 x 32 x 36 in., Collection of Sanjay Parthasarathy and Malini Balakrishnan.© Debanjan Roy, Photo courtesy Aicon Gallery.


As soon as you enter the exhibit (in galleries on the third floor of the museum), you are welcomed by Debanjan Roy’s anachronistic depiction — a bright-red sculpture of Gandhi, listening to an iPod (India Shining V (Gandhi with iPod).

The irony immediately hits you and you are intrigued to explore further, when you spot Valay Shende’s sculpture of the iconic scooter — the vehicle of the lower middle class — created of gold-plated discs.

The artworks are not a stereotypical representation of India: There are no snakes, snake charmers, monkeys or elephants (well, maybe half an elephant). Instead, the collection looks at the modern dilemma in India – how to embrace Western culture while staying rooted in familial traditions and personal identity.

The artists share their viewpoints as they take a closer look at their country and its popular culture, mythology and denizens — with all their contradictions, dilemmas and subtleties.

A picture of a South Indian temple by Vivek Vilasini overlays photo-shopped images of locals and foreigners in Indian attire.

Sooni Taraporevala’s photographic series, "Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India," is especially endearing as it captures the world of the dwindling religious and economically successful minority. A picture of a man waiting for his ride as Mumbai’s ubiquitous BEST bus passes by in the background is an everyday scene in any Mumbai dweller’s life.

Subodh Gupta’s works are views that Indians see as part or regular life in the country. The photographs of a railway station or of the slowly disappearing Ambassador taxi are nostalgic — Gupta rightfully sums up that “Indians either remember them from their youth or want to remember them.”

Scooter, 2007, Valay Shende, Indian, b. 1980, welded metal buttons, 45 x 70 x 30 in., Collection of Sanjay Parthasarathy and Malini Balakrishnan. © Valay Shende

Parents should know

- Like with most exhibits at SAM, no pens are allowed within the galleries. Photography is allowed as long as it is not explicitly stated otherwise. For tips on visiting with kids, click here.

- The sculpture of the scooter and Alwar Subramaniam’s self-sculpture are a big hit with kids and adults alike. You may want to hold onto curious little hands, especially around the sculptures. “Mamma, look how shiny this is!” (Aside from the Gandhi sculpture, the others are depicted in wall-mounted photographs.)

- There is no age restriction on who can view this exhibition. Kids will enjoy the color and vibrancy. However, you may need anywhere between 45 minutes to an hour in the galleries (City Dwellers is displayed in three galleries on the third floor) to absorb the details. This could be too much for kids 5 and under.

- There are open studios for kids in the museum in the forum level as well as the third floor. On the fourth floor, near the SAM shop , there is a touchpad activity center for kids to draw and paint on tablets.

If you go ...

When: City Dwellers will be shown through Feb. 15, 2015.

Where: Seattle Art Museum, third-floor Galleries

Hours: Wednesday–Sunday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Thursday nights the museum is open until 9 p.m.

Tickets: Free for members and kids 12 and under. $12.50–$19.50 for non-members. Buy online. On First Thursday, tickets are discounted to $6–$9.

Parking: Street parking can be tough to find. There are garages adjacent to the museum and SAM does offer parking discounts at certain garages – check with the ticketing desk. Consider taking the bus.

Share this article with your friends!

Leave a Comment