2023 Alfred Z. Solomon Residency: ‘Decadence and Decay:’ A Lecture by Siddhartha Shah and Conversation with Ruby Chishti

An image of an ornate muted green dress is put in a layout next to a painting depicting a woman wearing the dress.
Left: The Peacock Dress (1900-1902), workshop of Kishan Chand (India) and tailored by Jean-Philippe Worth (France), gold and silver Zardozi embroidery with beetle wings on silk taffeta, muslin, lace, and rhinestones Right: Mary Victoria Leiter, Lady Curzon (1909), William Logsdail, oil on canvas, Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire

Join us Thursday, November 2, at 5:30 pm, for “Decadence and Decay: Fashioning the Image of Lady Mary Curzon,” a lecture by Siddhartha Shah, Director of the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College. Following the lecture, Shah will be in conversation with fiber artist Ruby Chishti. Chrishti will also lead a textile workshop the following afternoon.

About the Lecture

A headless mannequin placed within a glass box wears a legendary ball gown commissioned in 1902 by the Vicereine of India, Mary Curzon. The dress—custom made for a state ball in Delhi—was as symbolic as it was magnificent, featuring peacock feathers embroidered in gold, silver, and copper threads. Worn on the statuesque body of the Vicereine, the gown transformed her into “a vision of embodied light” that revealed the opulence of the British Raj rather than the ways in which it was falling apart at the seams. Its display also attempts to highlight the glamour and glory of Empire though it, too, is clearly in a state of dramatic and irreversible deterioration. This presentation examines how imperial authority and the subjugation of the Indian subcontinent were staged on the body of Lady Curzon through dress and ornament, veiling the steady decline of British rule as well as Curzon’s own failing health. We consider how dress can simultaneously reveal an individual’s authentic self while also laying bare their deepest insecurities, and explore the tensions between the natural process of decay and our often unnatural efforts to prevent it.

About the Speakers

Siddhartha V. Shah is the John Wieland 1958 Director of the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College, where he oversees the museum’s collections, exhibitions, and programs, as well as a variety of initiatives aimed at deepening community engagement both on and off campus. He was previously Director of Education and Civic Engagement, and Curator of South Asian Art, at the Peabody Essex Museum, and had a career as a gallerist, gallery director, and dealer of South Asian and Himalayan art for over 15 years. Shah’s academic and curatorial projects have been featured in publications ranging from the Times of India and India Today to the New Yorker, the Wall Street Journal, and Psychology Today. He received a BA in Art History from Johns Hopkins University, an MA in East-West Psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies, and a Ph.D. in Art History & Archaeology from Columbia University.

Ruby Chishti is a Pakistani-American sculptor and installation artist. Formally educated at the National College of Arts in Lahore, Pakistan, she is now based in New York City. Her haunting and enigmatic sculptures explore her complex history of trauma–from family loss and the wanton destruction of her Pakistani home, to the survival of migration and her persistence through transitional impediments. Her work incorporates discarded mass-produced fabric as well as ceremonial clothing. Chishti was the 2018 Critic in Residence at the Fiber Science & Apparel Design, College of Human Ecology at Cornell University; and received the VSC/Pollock Krasner Fellowship in 2022. Her installations, sculptures, and site-specific works have been exhibited at the Asia Society, Queens Museum, Harris Museum Preston, UK, Hudson Valley MOCA, and the Middlebury College Museum Of Art, among others. Her major works are in permanent collections of the Qatar Museum, the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, the Devi Art Foundation, and the Whitworth Gallery.

About Solomon Residencies

The Alfred Z. Solomon Residency Fund was established by a bequest to Skidmore College in 2005. It supports short and long-term residencies at the Tang Teaching Museum in collaboration with Art History and Art departments to bring notable scholars, artists, and critics to classrooms, studios, and the museum. The residencies address a wide range of issues in the visual arts and feature a variety of opportunities for both formal and informal interaction.

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