South India, Karnataka/Maharashtra. Tussi/Thushi Necklace, late 19th century. Gold, precious stones, 19 in. Gift of Dr. Prasad and Jayashree Kommareddi. 2021.277

Meditations in Gold: South Asian Jewelry

May 16, 2024 - February 2, 2025

Ann K. Walch-Chan Gallery

From prehistoric necklaces made of shells and bones to contemporary ornaments of gold and gemstones, jewelry is a universal form of adornment and one of the most accessible forms of art. Since the beginning it has had many functions; to represent cultural beliefs, to indicate status and wealth, to act as a fashion statement, to serve religious purposes, to symbolize relationships and rites of passage, to serve as a type of currency, and as heirlooms connecting families to their heritage, or in some cases to protect the wearer.

With its own mines yielding gold, diamonds, and many other precious and semiprecious stones India has been a vibrant center for wearable arts for centuries. Whether it is an opulent creation covering much of the body or a simple amulet worn around the neck on a cotton string, every detail holds important cultural connections. This exhibition will include jewelry worn for religious, ceremonial, and daily purposes and because every element of jewelry design in India is intentional, it will consider the importance of motifs from the natural and spiritual world. It will also explore why materials—like gold and pearls—are deeply symbolic and how they are utilized to create meaning beyond aesthetics.

Related Programming:

Kommareddi Lecture Series

Adorning the Self: Symbolism and Personal Identity

May 16 | 6p | FIA Theater | FREE Admission

Dr. Usha Balakrishnan, Guest Lecturer

In a museum setting, divorced from their ethnographic context and isolated from their cultural milieu, jewels are exhibited as just beautiful objects. However, they can form a unique visual legacy and metaphoric expression of dynamic societies, past histories, and design sensibilities. This lecture will delve into the rich tapestry of Indian history and culture through the lens of personal adornment. It will trace the intricate relationship between jewelry, attire, and the expression of personal identity, social hierarchy, and spiritual belief systems that have, since time immemorial, flourished on the Indian subcontinent.

Dr. Usha R. Balakrishnan is a cultural capital consultant and a highly regarded scholar of Indian art and culture. As a preeminent historian of Indian jewelry, she has been the former Indian representative for Sotheby’s, served on the expert committee of the Kerala Museum, and has worked for the Brooklyn Museum, New York, where she pioneered and steered the museum’s Mughal Jewellery project. She is presently Chief Curator of the World Diamond Museum.

A prolific author, some of Dr. Balakrishnan’s vast range of titles are Dance of the Peacock, a definitive volume on the five-thousand-year history of Indian jewelry; Jewels of the Nizams, the first publication on this renowned royal collection; Treasures of the Deccan, that brings together the fabulous Nizams’ jewels, artifacts and rare archival photographs; Enduring Splendor: Jewelry of India’s Thar Desert; Alamkāra: The Beauty of Ornament; India: Jewels that Enchanted the World; Splendours of the Orient: Gold Jewels from Old Goa; and Icons in Gold: Jewelry of India from the Collection of the Musée Barbier-Mueller. Her recent publications include Carnatic & Deccan: Bejewelled Past, and Munnu: Vision & Passion. She has curated, edited, and contributed to Diamonds Across Time, published by the World Diamond Museum. A forthcoming title includes Silver & Gold: Visions of Arcadia, The Amrapali Collection of Indian Jewellery.

She has curated jewelry conferences, and her work with museums has led her to curate key projects at Indian and international museums, as well as contribute essays to several museum exhibition catalogues.

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From the Exhibition

  • Indian Period Gemset 'Hasli' or Necklace, ca. 1930. Gold, sapphires, pearls, emerald cabochons, 20 in. Museum purchase with funds donated by Dr. Prasad and Jayashree Kommareddi 2021.191

  • Indian Period Gemset 'Maang Tika' or Forehead Ornament, ca. 1930. Gold, pearls, tourmalines, enamel. 2 1/2 x 3 in. Museum purchase with funds donated by Dr. Prasad and Jayashree Kommareddi 2021.190

  • West India, Rajasthan Bangles (bangri), late 19th/early 20th century. Gold, diamonds, enamel. Private collection.

  • North India, Calcutta or Delhi Combs (kangi), early 20th century. Gold, emeralds, diamonds. Private collection.