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Release: Nov. 10, 2000

UI Museum of Art will show Indian popular art from a recently donated collection

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University of Iowa Museum of Art will present "Experiencing Devi: Hindu Goddesses in Indian Popular Art," an exhibition of more than 50 colorful and dramatic art works in various media from the Georgana Falb Foster Collection, a recent donation to the museum, Nov. 25 to May 27, 2001

The exhibition was organized by Vicki Rovine, the museum’s curator of the arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas, with special assistance from Philip Lutgendorf, chair of Asian Languages and Literature at the UI.

The exhibition features representations of devi, female deities who play central roles in Hindu religious practice, and includes paintings, sculpture, metalwork, textiles, and industrially produced images.

In India, shrines and altars are adorned with devi figures. On the street, in private homes, businesses and temples, the sculpted and painted images of devi inspire and guide religious contemplation. These objects may be hand-made or mass-produced, intricately worked or elegantly minimal. They all illustrate the central role of art in human communication with the spiritual realm.

"This exhibition offers an extraordinary opportunity to look at the popular religious arts of India that are not well known in the United States," Rovine said.

The museum will host several special events in conjunction with the exhibition. The formal opening Friday evening, Dec. 1, will include a ritual "awakening," performed at 7 p.m. by a Hindu priest, of a goddess image formed from local Iowa clay, followed at 7:45 p.m. by a gallery tour led by Lutgendorf.

The museum will also be the site of a public symposium organized around the exhibition and featuring scholars from India and the United States, Feb. 23 and 24, 2001.

Although she is officially the curator of the exhibition, Rovine is quick to give credit to others in the local community who have provided the cultural knowledge and expertise that supports the exhibition.

"Professor Lutgendorf’s many years of experience in this area offer a wonderful resource for interpreting this collection," she said. "He has written the text for explanatory wall panels, providing cultural context for the art works in the exhibition. We’ve also worked with local architect Sanjay Jani to create an evocative installation."

Lutgendorf explained the history of the worship of devis in India. "Female deities began appearing frequently in both sculpture and narrative several centuries before the beginning of the Common Era," he said. "Today, devis are everywhere -- in poster art, roadside shrines, even in advertising, videos and comic books.

"Their range of personality types is remarkable: from benign and compassionate figures to militant, protective virgins and of course the ambivalent Kali, the black, skull-garlanded goddess of death and destruction. There are also countless local devis associated with the very soil of India’s hundreds of thousands of villages.

"These goddesses are often worshiped in very simple forms: in the flames of oil lamps, in water-filled clay pots and in earthy images of gently-rounded stone or clay. Though the images may be simple, the theology of goddesses is a complex interweaving of themes of creation and destruction, subordination and dominance, and the local and the universal. Even the most unschooled peasant is likely to affirm that an earth-goddess who is intimately enmeshed in local customs and kinship networks is also the cosmic Mother who is One and omnipresent."

Born and raised in Elgin, Iowa, Georgana Falb Foster had her first taste of Indian philosophy in a course she took as an undergraduate at the UI. At 21 she traveled to India, where she saw the hardships and excitement of the country’s immediate post-Independence period. After she settled in Amherst, Mass., with her husband, John Foster, Georgana maintained her interest in India, and the Fosters visited South Asia frequently over the next 33 years.

Fascinated by the beauty and vibrancy of everyday brassware, storytellers' scrolls, hand painted textiles, and wood and clay figurines -- works then largely ignored by art historians and collectors -- she purchased pieces from itinerant peddlers and commissioned works by artisans in their home villages. Intrigued by the cultural contexts of popular art, she began studying the relevant mythologies, rituals, and festivals. She eventually designed her own program of study through the Amherst-based Five College Consortium and at 61 she earned a second bachelor’s degree in South Asian Studies.

After her husband's retirement from active teaching, Georgana Falb Foster began thinking about a permanent home for her collection. In 1994 she met Lutgendorf when he lectured at Mount Holyoke, and was delighted to learn of the South Asian Studies Program at her alma mater. In 1998 she formally donated her collection to the UI Museum of Art, and also arranged to donate her personal papers and field notes to the Iowa Women's History Archive.

Support for "Experiencing Devi" was provided by Meenal and Arnold Menezes. M.C. Ginsberg Objects of Art, Inc. of Iowa City is the corporate sponsor for events at the UI Museum of Art during the 2000-2001 season, through the University of Iowa Foundation. Support for the symposium on "Experiencing Devi" has been provided by the UI Arts and Humanities Initiative, the International Programs Major Projects Fund, the Stanley-UI Foundation Support Organization and the UI School of Religion.

The UI Museum of Art, located on North Riverside Drive in Iowa City, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday; and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free. Public metered parking is available in UI parking lots across from the museum on Riverside Drive and just north of the museum.

For information on the UI Museum of Art, visit on the World Wide Web. Information is available on other UI arts events at