It’s about time MIA’s South and Southeast Asian collection had a makeover. 

For the past 20 years, the South and Southeast Asian galleries at the Minneapolis Institute of Art have seen little to no change, despite numerous expansions in the Japanese, Korean, and Chinese galleries down the hall. But Pujan Gandhi hopes to change that.

Gandhi was hired last fall as MIA’s new assistant curator of its South, Southeast Asian, and Islamic collections. Self-motivated and familiar with the collector’s market, Gandhi said one of his goals is not only to expand the collection he manages, but invite visitors to engage with art in a new and more personal way.

“Because this is a free museum you’re seeing some of the best and most interesting work man has created in one space,” said Gandhi. “Right now we are in discussion about reorganizing the galleries. We’re trying to get as many voices as possible to sort of design and engineer [the gallery] to be accommodating to a lot of voices.”

In a lecture he hosted last Thursday, Gandhi noted that the region of South, Southeast Asia, and the Middle Eastis is populated with over 2 billion people, one fourth of the global population. 

“I think this area’s relevancy makes a case for itself,” he said. “Starting from 1917 we’ve been collecting in the field and making very ambitious and important acquisitions. But it’s been spirratic and undirected and so this is an opportunity to think about things holistically and see where there’s gaps in the canon.”

Matthew Welch, the Chief Curator and Deputy Director at MIA, said he was working with Gandhi to develop other ways to engage viewers, including rewriting the educational panels next to gallery artwork, uploading digital maps and diagrams to iPads next to the exhibits, and hosting more interactive programs or lectures.

“We’re moving away from a slate of just straight lectures,” he said. “Some people love straight lectures and thrive that way, but other people learn differently. So we’re trying to encourage the curators when they shape their programs to their affinity groups or to the public at large to think more expansively.” 

Liu Yang, Head of China, South and Southeast Asian Art, said the leadership team is working hard to help Gandhi strategize new and interesting exhibitions, and to engage with the community, particularly the communities from South and Southeast Asian Countries.

“There are people from all different cultures, so we need to have those people in our mind,” said Yang. “Museums really serve a society of diversity. Learning lies in the center of this collection.”

The encyclopedic nature of the museum links thousands of artifacts, paintings, sculptures, and texts together under one roof, a trait about MIA that Gandhi admires for its interconnectedness. 

“I think we talk a lot about art as a vehicle for empathy,” he said. “So when we come to understand the art of different people and different cultures (and even minds of our own culture), we sort of gain a deeper understanding of the human condition.”