Shanthi Kandiah and Brahmal Vasudevan Endow A&A with the Vidya Dehejia Professorship of South Asian Art

Sept. 29, 2023

The Department of Art & Archaeology will be home to The Vidya Dehejia Professorship of South Asian Art. 

Department of Art & Archaeology Chair Professor Rachael Z. DeLue shared the momentous news with the A&A community at the September 28th lecture “The Thief Who Stole My Heart” by Professor Vidya Dehejia, after whom the professorship is named.  

With a passion for South Asian art themselves, Brahmal Vasudevan and Shanthi Kandiah generously gifted the professorship in Dehejia’s honor with the aim of cultivating research and interest in the field.

“Princeton has an amazing reputation in liberal arts and in art history in general,” Vasudevan said. “We consulted with several people who felt that Princeton had the heritage in art history that would benefit the most from a professorship in South Asian art.” 

Brahmal Vasudevan speaking at the podium
Brahmal Vasudevan speaking about origin and aim of The Vidya Dehejia Professorship of South Asian Art (Photo/Kirstin Ohrt)

Kandiah added, “We just wanted the professorship to have a home that draws all the best talent, a place where all the different people who are already working in little pockets can come together to share their ideas and what they’re doing so they can help create a really interesting field of study.”

“A position in South Asian art history has long been a priority for the department, so it is tremendous to have been given the opportunity to establish a named professorship in the field," said DeLue. "Thanks to the extraordinary generosity of Brahmal Vasudevan and Shanthi Kandiah, the department is now poised to advance the study of South Asia in a substantial and significant manner—and we are fortunate to do so with a professorship named after one of the most distinguished scholars in the field, Vidya Dehejia. I’m truly thrilled to begin the wonderful work of making Princeton a leading center for the study of the incredibly rich and vibrant history of South Asian art.”

Introducing Dehejia, Nancy and Peter Lee Associate Curator of Asian Art Zoe Kwok *13 described the rich and dedicated career that makes her such a perfectly suited honoree. Her decades-long teaching career spans the University of Sydney, the University of Hong Kong, the Delhi School of Planning and Architecture, the Smithsonian, and, primarily, Columbia University. Among Dehejia's 27 books and countless published articles on South Asian art, Kwok highlighted Dehejia's groundbreaking Art of the Imperial Cholas (Columbia University Press, 1990), her work on the representation of female divinity in Indian Art, and her recent work India: A Story through 100 Objects (Roli Books, 2021). 

Group of graduate students around a cocktail table during the reception

A&A graduate students at the reception following the lecture, from left: Anisa Tavangar, Sonya Merutka, Georgie Sánchez, Tobias Rosen, Nick Irvin, and Nicole-Ann Lobo (Photo/Kirstin Ohrt)

With a collection of South Asian works that has steadily grown since James Steward became the Nancy A. Nasher–David J. Haemisegger, Class of 1976, Princeton University Art Museum Director in 2009, the Museum's collection and future gallery space dedicated to displaying South Asian art will offer robust teaching resources for the new professor.  Dehejia also has a personal connection to Princeton, as both a parent and grandparent of alumni. 

Vasudevan and Shanthi see their choice of Dehejia to lend the name to the professorship as an obvious one. “Vidya is not just a leading scholar, but she also has trained and educated a whole generation of people in this field,” Vasudevan said. “We surprised her with naming it in her honor as a reflection of her lifelong commitment to this subject.” 

One of those whom she educated was in the audience that night, A&A graduate student Nicole-Ann Lobo. “Vidya was my undergraduate adviser,” she said. “When I first grew interested in the Goan modernist painter FN Souza during a seminar of hers, she encouraged me to pursue a research project, and ended up advising my undergraduate thesis. I definitely would not be in an art history Ph.D. program today if not for all her encouragement and support.”

Vigya Dehejia speaking at podium in front of a screen displaying a sculpture

Professor Vidya Dehejia presenting "The Thief Who Stole My Heart" (Photo/Kirstin Ohrt)

Following the special announcement, Dehejia’s lecture exemplified the rich and captivating material the professorship promises.  Dehejia spoke about Chola bronzes by an unnamed master sculptor created around the year 1000. Exquisitely formed, these copper figures showcase the sculptor’s craftsmanship and attention to detail.  The many forms of jewelry, from toe and finger rings to necklaces, elbow bands, and torso embellishments, were rendered down to the finest detail, including clasps. A tell-tale sign of this sculptor’s work, Dehejia pointed out, is the carefully formed fingernails, gently rounded at their tips. The figures were also indescribably emotive and showed the sculptor’s sophistication in rendering facial expressions and features, stance, and gesture.Dehejia spoke with such reverence and deep knowledge of the subject, it was impossible not to be drawn in. And familiar with Dehejia’s passion for her subject, Lobo was overjoyed to see her making such an impact on the Princeton community.

“It’s an absolute thrill that Princeton will have a professorship in South Asian art named after Vidya Dehejia. Professor Dehejia’s brilliant scholarship, intellectual generosity, and care for her generations of students have made an indelible mark on the field of South Asian art, which itself has long been underrepresented in Princeton’s art history program,” said Lobo. “I’m very excited for this new chapter in our department to begin.”