A scholar working on ancient, medieval and colonial Indian art, Vidya Dehejia is particularly known for her studies on the social history of traditional South Asian crafts and their craftsmanship. Dehejia also translates and decodes text written in pre-modern Indian languages and is currently the Barbara Stoler Miller Professor of Indian Art at Columbia University, New York.
Dehejia was born in Bombay (now Mumbai) and received her first bachelor’s degree in Ancient Indian Culture at St. Xavier’s College in 1961. She then attended Newnham College, Cambridge University, where she completed a second BA in 1963. Dehejia was able to pursue an integrated MA and PhD programme over the next few years through the Cambridge University Research Grant, obtaining both degrees and publishing her dissertation, Early Buddhist Caves of Western India in 1968. She moved to Australia in the same year to work as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Sydney until 1972. Between 1972–79, Dehejia worked as a lecturer at the University of Hong Kong and the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), New Delhi. She joined Columbia University in 1982 and worked as an Associate Professor till 1994 when she was appointed Chief Curator and Deputy Director of the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC. She held these positions until 2002 when she returned to Columbia to take on her current role.
In 1997, Dehejia developed and participated in the television series Past Forward: PurvaUttara, which covered India’s art heritage to mark fifty years of Indian independence. From 1997 to 2000, she was a member of the Board of Advisors at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery, Washington DC where she also delivered the AW Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts in 2016 introducing her research on Chola bronze sculptures. Between 2003–08, alongside her professorship, Dehejia was also the Director of the South Asian Institute at Columbia University. She worked as General Editor for Marg magazine from 2011–15. Since 2014, Dehejia has been a visiting professor at the Mario Miranda Chair in Fine Art, Goa University.
Dehejia has curated and written catalogues for several exhibitions on pre-modern Indian art, some of which were later developed as books. Notable among these are “Impossible Picturesqueness.” Edward Lear’s Indian Watercolors 1873–1875 (1988) at Wallach Gallery, Columbia University; Devi: The Great Goddess (1999) and India Through the Lens: Photography 1840–1911 (2000), at Arthur M. Sackler Gallery; The Sensuous and the Sacred: Chola Bronzes from South India (2002) at Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Dallas Museum of Art and Cleveland Museum of Art; Delight in Design: Indian Silver for the Raj (2008) at Wallach Gallery.
Dehejia has published widely and her key volumes include Looking Again at Indian Art (1978); From Merchants to Emperors: British Artists and India 1757–1930 (1986) co-written with Pratapaditya Pal; Royal Patrons and Great Temple Art (edited, 1988); Slaves of the Lord: The Path of the Tamil Saints (1988); Representing the Body: Gender Issues in Indian Art (edited, 1997); Indian Art (1997, 1998, 2000, 2002); Devi, The Great Goddess: Female Divinity in South Asian Art (1999); The Body Adorned: Dissolving Boundaries between Sacred and Profane in India’s Art (2009); and The Unfinished: Stone Carvers at Work on the Indian Subcontinent (2015), for which Dehejia collaborated with Peter Rockwell. Things of Beauty, a book written for children as an introduction to Indian art, was published by the government of India in 1979.
Dehejia has received multiple awards and accolades for her work as a scholar, key among them are the Hettleman Award in 1990 and the Padma Bhushan in 2012. She also received fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation in 1990 and the National Endowment for the Humanities between 2009–12 for her work on early Buddhist art.
At the time of writing, Dehejia lives and works in New York, USA.
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