Surrey Art Gallery curator Jordan Strom with artist Swarna Chitrakar’s depiction of the Asian Tsunami of 2004, featured in the gallery’s new show, a touring exhibit called “Many Visions, Many Versions: Art from Indigenous Communities in India.” (Photo: Tom Zillich)

VIDEO: Surrey gallery welcomes big, colourful Indian art on tour

Large-scale paintings and drawings at Bear Creek Park facility starting Saturday, Jan. 20

Surrey Art Gallery will be the only Canadian stop for a new touring exhibition by indigenous artists from India.

“Many Visions, Many Versions: Art from Indigenous Communities in India,” which opens Saturday evening (Jan. 20) and continues at the gallery until the third week of March, features close to 90 paintings – many of them large-scale – and drawings by 24 artists.

Jordan Strom, the gallery’s curator of exhibitions and collections, called it “a really groundbreaking exhibition,” which is free for the public to see.

“There’s not been something like this in North America since the late-’60s, so it’s a really special exhibition with some extraordinary artists,” Strom said.

Some boldly coloured and vibrantly patterned paintings are featured in the touring show, which showcases the work of artists from four major indigenous artistic traditions in India: the Gond and Warli communities of Central India, the Mithila region of Bihar and the narrative scroll painters of West Bengal.


Aurogeeta Das, the London-based co-curator of the touring show, is the guest speaker at Saturday’s opening reception, which runs from 6:30 to 9 p.m.

“I focused on Gond, Chitrakar and Warli art while David (Szanton, my co-curator) focused on Mithila art,” Das told the Now-Leader in an email.

As curators, they researched the artworks and translated their findings into accessible texts for audiences, she explained.

“Our objective was to put together a diverse, high-calibre and representative selection of works from the four communities. We additionally elected to borrow works from several key collections from France, India and the U.S., which helped to keep the calibre high and to form a picture of how this genre of art is developing.”

Das, who teaches at the University of East Anglia in Norwich and at Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London, is a frequent flyer – “particularly to India, for rather protracted research trips,” she said.

The curators of the touring show selected the four indigenous traditions that are most vibrant, Das noted.

“Of all the indigenous traditions in India, these four also have more explicitly contemporary practices, so that the artists from these traditions are particularly adept at assimilating the contemporary into an ancient tradition, a process that is itself instructive, and not just for arts researchers.”

On view are renderings of animals, nature and deities in paintings made by a subgroup of the Gond tribe, the Pardhans. They traditionally paint on mud walls and floors during weddings and festivals.

In its current form, the exhibition was shown at the Faulconer Gallery at Grinnell College in Iowa. Following its time in Surrey, the show will travel to other galleries in the U.S., including Miami, Minneapolis and Knoxville.

“The artworks themselves are magnificent,” Das added. “They are by turns aesthetically sophisticated, thematically engaging and in their narrative aspects, they participate in that timeless, universal trope – the storytelling genre; we all love stories. The themes they focus on are universal: Contemporary Explorations, Myth and Cosmology, Village Life and Nature – Real and Imagined.”

This week, Das will visit Surrey for the first time.

“I am very much looking forward to visiting the city and indeed, to visiting Surrey Art Gallery itself, which I understand also has a concurrent exhibition on Canadian quilting, which I am keen to view,” she said. “I hope visitors to ‘Many Visions, Many Versions’ enjoy it as much as I hope to enjoy my own visit to your city.”

In addition to Saturday’s launch, other special events for the exhibit include a tour led by Strom on Feb. 24, a discussion panel on March 4 and a Family Sunday event on March 18. Surrey Art Gallery is located at 13750 88th Ave., Surrey. Call 604-501-5566 for more details, or visit

The gallery is open Tuesday to Thursday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. The facility is closed Mondays and holidays.

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