Sonabai | Mingei International Museum

On View

Jul 26, 2009 - Sep 5, 2010

Curated By

Stephen P. Huyler, Ph.D.

The first exhibition in the western hemisphere to feature the art of a remarkable self-taught artist, who as a young bride, was forced by her husband to live in total isolation for 15 years. During that oppressed time, she saw only her husband and their one child, a son. Separated from the outside world, Sonabai populated the interior mud walls of her home with colorful, whimsical sculptures created exclusively from her own vivid imagination. Unfamiliar with any art outside the limited decorations of her village, she invented a style all her own and unique in Indian art. When her confinement ended and villagers entered her home, they were astounded by her vision.

Gradually, Sonabai’s reputation spread and, in 1983, she was awarded the highest honor New Delhi to receive her award where she immediately caught the attention of the Indian and international art world. For two decades, she traveled extensively throughout India and overseas exhibiting her art. Although an essentially shy and withdrawn woman, Sonabai, with government encouragement, conducted workshops and taught many other artists her unusual techniques, strongly influencing their creativity.

Today in the remote rural villages of her central Indian state, many other artists practice Sonabai’s style. Through the necessity of expressing her own vision in the face of great adversity, Sonabai unintentionally improved the economy and welfare of her entire region.

The exhibition included 14 large sculptures created in collaboration with Sonabai’s family, complemented by 45 other pieces sculpted by six artists trained under Sonabai: her son and daughter-in-law, Daroga Ram and Rajenbai Rajawar, Atma Das Manikpuri, Sundaribai Rajawar, Bhagat Ram Rajawar and Parabatibai Sarthi. Large photo murals and framed prints by Stephen Huyler and film clips by the well-known filmmaker David Wright infused the exhibition with scenes of Sonabai’s home and community and the artists’ production techniques. Two illustrated books by Stephen Huyler accompany the exhibition—Sonabai: Another Way of Seeing and Daughters of India. In addition, Huyler produced a documentary film on Sonabai to coincide with the opening of the exhibition. The film received a Milagro Award as best short film at the Santa Fe Film Festival.

Daroga Ram and Rajenbai Rajawar, Sonabai’s son and daughter-in-law, traveled from India to demonstrate their technique while creating to create a jali (decorative screen) for the exhibition. They led a workshop, Expressions in Bas-Relief, on Saturday, August 1, 2009.

Dr. Huyler’s lecture on Wednesday, July 29, 2009 was entitled Sonabai Rajawar–Visionary Artist. The second annual Diwali Festival took place on Sunday, October 25, presented by the Museum and the San Diego Indian-American Society in association with San Diego Museum of Art. On Tuesday, January 19, 2010, Dr. Huyler returned to participate in a panel discussion, Stories of Indian Women: Resistance, Resilience and Transcendence, held in conjunction with the Museum of Photographic Arts’ (MoPA) exhibition Beloved Daughters. Presented at MoPA, the panel moderator was Jenni Prisk of Voices for Women. Carol McCusker, Curator of Photography at MoPA and Stephen Huyler also presented. Panelists were Justice, Simarjeet Sahota, advocate for Victims of Domestic Violence and Uma Laksman, San Diego Nari. A film festival, OUTSIDER ART ON FILM – Another way of Seeing took place on Saturday, July 24, 2010. It featured _Grandma’s Bottle Village, The Angel that Satnds by Me: Minnie Evans’ Paintings, The Cats of Mirikitani, James Castle: Portrait of an Artist and SONABAI – Another Way of Seeing._

Please Note

Masks are required for all guests (ages 2+) inside the Museum, regardless of vaccination status.