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Asian Art Museum Takes You “Beyond Bollywood”

Explore 2000 Years of Dance in Art from Temples to Royal Courts to Modern Movie Classics

Digital Press Kit

San Francisco, Jan 17, 2023 — Dance is everywhere in the arts of South and Southeast Asia, from the sacred dance of a god bringing the world into being to the sensual dance of a courtly performer before a maharaja to the glamour of modern Bollywood. From March 31 through July 10, 2023, the Asian Art Museum presents Beyond Bollywood: 2000 Years of Dance in Art, inviting all to experience the ecstasy, the joy, and the power of millennia of movement.

Featuring more than 120 artworks from five countries borrowed from 25 of the finest museums and private collections, Beyond Bollywood immerses museumgoers in a multimedia showcase of dance, bringing a diverse array of historic and contemporary sculpture, painting, textiles, jewelry, photographs, and more to vivid, passionate life. Visitors will gain a deeper understanding of the enduring power of dance to inspire artists and audiences alike.

“The world loves Bollywood films for their famously elaborate choreography, and we wanted our community to be able to appreciate the deep historical, spiritual—and even economic and political—roots of dance across South and Southeast Asia, as well as parts of the Himalayas,” says Jay Xu, the Barbara Bass Bakar Director and CEO of the Asian Art Museum. “Big ideas, the best art, unforgettable experiences—that’s how you go Beyond Bollywood and get to the sublime spectacle of dance and the artworks that depict it.”

As with the museum’s recent blockbuster teamLab: Continuity exhibition (2021-2022), visitors will be thrilled by the experiential aspects of the exhibition, which take full advantage of the theatrical and technical capabilities of the museum’s new Akiko Yamazaki and Jerry Yang Pavilion—from subtle musical backdrops to gallery-spanning video installations. For Beyond Bollywood, this also includes scheduled live performances in the main pavilion itself, as well as numerous dance performances and programs for the duration of the exhibition.

“Behind every graceful swish or vigorous stomp, whether in a temple bronze or a live performance, whether sacred or secular, the stakes are quite high: personal pleasure and public renown, birth and death, global creation and destruction, gangs of gods and goddesses setting the pulse of the universe,” says director Xu.

Co-curated by Ainsley M. Cameron, Curator of South Asian Art, Islamic Art, and Antiquities, Cincinnati Art Museum and Forrest McGill, Wattis Senior Curator of South and Southeast Asia at the Asian Art Museum, Beyond Bollywood is divided into five thematic sections: Destruction and Creation; Devotion; Subjugation; Glorification; and Celebration.

“There are few major world cultures in which gods dance and dance to convey matters of such divine seriousness. By arranging artworks across these five themes we reveal how much dance, and the art that depicts it, enriches and connects this massive, diverse geography of peoples, places, and beliefs,” explains McGill. “The goal is for audiences—whether already familiar with these dance traditions or encountering them for the first time—to come away with a fresh appreciation for the skill of both the artist memorializing a dance and the dancers themselves, as well as the raw emotion and pure devotion that ignites them.”


Thematic Galleries Invigorate Artworks, Enhance Visitor Experience

Excitingly, each thematic section opens with a single historic artwork of exceptional importance, enhanced by a special treatment of dramatic lighting, music, and immersive video. By establishing a “tone” for each theme, visitors will be able to enter each thematic gallery prepared to view artworks through this specific emotional lens (in parentheses below).

  1. Destruction and Creation (awe): This theme is exemplified by the iconic Chola-dynasty bronze “Shiva Nataraja, the Lord of Dance,” which represents Shiva’s vigorous “dance of bliss” and dates back to approximately 1125–1175 C.E.
  2. Devotion (longing): The theme of Devotion is represented by the exquisitely rendered “Krishna dances with the cowherd women,” a work from approximately 1850–1900 C.E. that features Krishna joining a circle of cowherd women in the “dance of divine love.”
  3. Subjugation (fear and release): The theme of Subjugation is exemplified by “Dancing Hevajra surrounded by dancing yoginis,” a bronze work probably dating from 1050–1100 C.E. that presents the god Hevajra dancing on a demonic corpse, surrounded by eight dancing yoginis (female divinities of frightening power). The deity’s dance, which takes place in the cremation ground, symbolizes overcoming illusion.
  4. Glorification (reverence): This theme is represented by “Dancers and musicians entertaining a deity or nobleman,” a masterpiece of Angkor stonework dating from approximately 1075–1125 C.E. that features a complex of female dancers performing before a princely male figure.
  5. Celebration (joyful exuberance): The theme of Celebration is exemplified by “Dancing villagers,” a work attributed to Pandit Seu dating from approximately 1730 C.E. This piece depicts seven men dancing with abandon to the vigorous tune of four musicians, positioned against a monochromatic red background, lost to time and space in their enviable ecstasy.

“As so many of these artworks show us, dance is often most powerful, and most meaningful when we do it together,” says director Jay Xu. “After the challenges our community has faced, Beyond Bollywood is a chance to gather, and to celebrate the joys and mutual pleasures of art that puts dance center stage.”

Beyond Bollywood debuted at the Cincinnati Art Museum on November 11, 2022, and will run until February 5, 2023, before coming to the Asian Art Museum. The thematic evocative spaces and immersive elements are unique to the Asian Art Museum’s presentation.


Programs and Performances Bring the Art to Life 

A variety of dance schools and performers from across the Bay Area bring the diversity of South and Southeast Asian as well as Himalayan dance traditions to the museum:

  • “Dance Dialogue” pop-up performances take place on second Sundays and Thursdays in the exhibition galleries.
  • “Beyond Bollywood Dance Series” takes place monthly.
  • “Family Fun Days” take place on the first Sunday of every month and include dance-themed activities for all ages.
  • A special day-long AAPI Heritage Month cultural celebration highlights multiple musical and dance traditions.
  • Daily exhibition-related artmaking takes place in the Shriram Experiential Learning Center.

Please check the museum website for specific times and dates:


Exhibition Organization

Beyond Bollywood: 2000 Years of Dance in Art is co-organized by the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco and the Cincinnati Art Museum. This exhibition has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Democracy demands wisdom. This project is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts. Generous support is provided by Eliza and Dean Cash, Sumir Chadha, Vaishali Chadha and Family, Yogen and Peggy Dalal, Shashi and Dipanjan “DJ” Deb, Aarti and Sandeep Johri, Lata Krishnan and Ajay B. Shah, Fred Levin & Salle Yoo and Jeff Gray, Dipti and Rakesh Mathur, Sundar and Anjali Pichai, SACHI: Society for Art & Cultural Heritage of India, Ram and Vijay Shriram, Meena Vashee, and an anonymous donor. 

Sustained support generously provided by the Akiko Yamazaki and Jerry Yang Endowment Fund for Exhibitions. 


Exhibition Publication 

Beyond Bollywood is accompanied by a 272-page catalogue featuring 265 color illustrations, edited by Forrest McGill, with essays by Ainsley M. Cameron (exhibition co-curator), Curator of South Asian Art, Islamic Art, and Antiquities, Cincinnati Art Museum; Forrest McGill (exhibition co-curator), Wattis Senior Curator of South and Southeast Asia at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco;Esha Niyogi De,  faculty, Writing Programs at University of California, Los Angeles; Padma Kaimal, Batza Professor of Art & Art History, Colgate University; and Laura Weinstein, Ananda Coomaraswamy Curator of South Asian and Islamic Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Contributions by Qamar Adamjee, Jeffrey S. Durham, Trudy L. Gaba, Natasha Reichle, and Nathaniel M. Stein. ISBN 9780939117925. $45. Publication was supported by the Society for Asian Art. Available online worldwide at or by the University of Hawaii press:


About the Asian Art Museum

Located in the heart of San Francisco, the museum is home to one of the world’s finest collections of Asian and Asian American art, with more than 20,000 awe-inspiring works ranging from ancient jades and ceramics to contemporary video installations. Dynamic special exhibitions, cultural celebrations and public programs for all ages provide rich art experiences that unlock the past and spark questions about the future.