Phoenix Art Museum presents “Expanding Darshan: Manjari Sharma, To See and Be Seen,” showcasing the remarkable, large-scale work of global contemporary artist Manjari Sharma. Organized by the Birmingham Museum of Art in Alabama, the exhibition features Sharma’s intricate photographic portraits from her Darshan series, paired alongside historical sculptural objects from the collection of the Birmingham Museum of Art, many of which are on view for the first time.
Together these works explore issues of identity, multiculturalism, and personal mythology.
“Expanding Darshan: Manjari Sharma, To See and Be Seen” will be on view from December 16, 2023, through April 14, 2024, in the Katz Wing at Phoenix Art Museum.
“This exhibition will acquaint our visitors with Manjari Sharma, an outstanding contemporary artist who is taking classic Hindu images and reimagining them through the photographic medium, in conversation with a selection of sculptural objects from the Birmingham Museum of Art collection,” Jeremy Mikolajczak, the Sybil Harrington Director and CEO of Phoenix Art Museum, said. “Expanding Darshan further illuminates our institutional approach of pairing historical works of art with modern and contemporary works, thus deepening connections and relationships with diverse and multi-generational communities. Expanding Darshan is accompanied by a robust series of arts-engagement programming, highlighting the tenets and cultural practices of Hinduism, the third largest religion worldwide.”
Based in Los Angeles, Sharma was born and raised in Mumbai, India, and creates work rooted in photographic portraiture that addresses issues of identity, multiculturalism, and personal mythology. The series’ name refers to the Sanskrit word Darshana, which means “sight,” “vision,” or “appearance.” In the Hindu faith, ‘darshan’ refers to the experience of seeing or witnessing a deity, spiritual object, or holy person in either real or imagined form. True darshan is not simply a voyeuristic relationship—it is a mutual interaction between viewer and subject that results in a powerful form of worship.
To bring her Darshan series to fruition, Sharma worked across continents to organize and manage a large team of models and craftspeople, including prop builders, makeup artists, art directors, painters, carpenters, jewelry experts, and assistants, whose labor and expertise informed her photographic recreations of nine Hindu deities in temple settings. These images were created with custom fabrication and have been featured in The New York Times, Vice Magazine, and Los Angeles Times, among others.
“My practice is shaped by my cultural curiosity about the inner landscape of the human mind and its inextricable, elemental, and sacred relationship to ritual and mythology,” Sharma said. “I use my lens of introspection to conceptually collage from scriptures of yesterday juxtaposing them with how they transpire into everyday narratives of today. Darshan was the culmination of my deep-seated interest in studying, questioning, and celebrating these epic states of human imagination, history, performance, and transformation.”
In dialogue with these contemporary images, the exhibition presents much earlier sculptural objects from the collection of the Birmingham Museum of Art, many of which are on view to the public for the first time. These works date as early as the 7th century and offer waves of stylistic and regional iterations—from both South and Southeast Asia—of these same nine Hindu deities.
Together with Sharma’s works, they amplify ongoing conversations about the inextricable relationship between art and religion, and how each generation of contemporary artists continues to cull inspiration from their personal experiences, individual cultures, and spiritual practices to refresh and re-envision images from an earlier history.
“Amplified by Sharma’s extraordinary photographs, this exhibition demonstrates—over centuries—a larger sphere of exchange throughout South and Southeast Asia of magnificent shared visual and textual sources not only for Hinduism, but also for Buddhism, Jainism, and even aspects of Islamic religious traditions as practiced throughout the regions,” Katherine Anne Paul, PhD, the Virginia and William M. Spencer III Curator of Asian Art at the Birmingham Museum of Art, said.