Museum Features Voices From New Jersey’s Indian American Community
Photo: Bruce M White
India-West Staff Reporter
HAMILTON, NJ – Grounds For Sculpture, the 42-acre not-for-profit sculpture park, arboretum, and museum located here, is presenting a multi-faceted portrait of the Indian American community in the state, through first-person narratives, images, and objects.
‘Local Voices: Memories, Stories, and Portraits’ has been created in partnership with 15 community members and led by artist, teacher, and journalist Madhusmita “Madhu” Bora.
BothLocal Voices and the second exhibition, ‘Spiral Q: The Parade’ will be on view through January 7, 2024. Spiral Q’s focus will be on the locally and nationally recognized puppet-making organization Spiral Q, with its rich history of take-to-the-street advocacy processions for social and political change.
Kathleen Ogilvie Greene, Chief Audience Officerat the museum and lead curator of both exhibitions, added, “Regardless of our race, ethnicity, language, or age, most of us carry stories that offer themes of love, loss, and resilience. This connectivity is the impetus for Local Voices: Memories, Stories, and Portraits. We stayed hyperlocal—both with the selected community and with storytelling sharing from a lived experience—to focus on the stories that connect us as human beings.
“Both Madhu Bora and Spiral Q have been amazing partners, and we are excited to present two distinct, yet connected, paths to storytelling: the individual narratives within one exhibition and the collective voice of a community in the other. I’m particularly delighted to be working on both shows with co-curator Quentin Williams, who brings his expertise as a curator, activist, and poet to the team.”
The museum invited Bora—a folk and traditional artist, teacher, writer, and journalist, as well as an Assamese-American dancer and founder of Sattriya Dance Company—to gather oral histories that would present a range of uniquely personal stories from New Jersey’s robust Indian diasporic community. The images, objects, and stories within the Local Voicesexhibition are the result of her building relationships with individuals, the “storytellers,” over the course of 10 months. The selected 15 individuals were then invited to share their stories, select an object of meaning, and craft their image with full autonomy, to create a powerful exhibition.
As the organizing process continued, there were frequent conversations about the core theme and impact of storytelling from a first-person narrative. The storytellers were invited to participate in workshops, where they explored the power of sharing their lived experiences. They were encouraged to share as much or as little as they were comfortable sharing.
“Storytellers are those generous beings who reach into the realm of memory and share deeply personal experiences and reflections vulnerably,” Bora said. “When people whose stories are not often heard have an opportunity to speak their truth, they are empowered, and we are all made the better for it. We hope that through this exhibition our audience will be inspired to connect with their own histories, roots, and memories, and share those with others.”
The Local Voices exhibition will showcase portraits on view, hanging banners, personal objects of meaning, and video and audio clips of personal stories. Participants in this project reflect a broad scope of this community through the lenses of language, religion, ability, region of origin, caste, education, immigration, and sexual orientation.
The museum is also working with the South Asian American Digital Archive as a preservation partner, to ensure that the stories shared within this exhibition will be archived permanently for the benefit of future generations.