A space for thinking


This is a short note about a rare moment; it happened just the other night:

And so, the BBC kindly chose to broadcast a documentary concerning the ‘Treasures of the Indus.’ The content was beautiful. But it was less the material subject matter that struck me. It was the presenter. She was graceful, scholarly and, little by little, she revealed her refined aesthetic perception. Her name is Sona Datta. On display, then, was something more than the artistic treasures of the Indus. In the manner of her presentation Sona Datta showed us that she was thinking hard about what she was saying. She paused to think – sometimes in mid-sentence. She provided an unusual ‘space’ for thinking. And more: there was something about the timbre of her voice that complemented the depth of her thinking; I was reminded of the velvet notes of a clarinet. Perhaps there were notes, too, of a lovely perfume, of Guerlain or Balenciaga …

I think that it’s hard to present a documentary in the course of which the presenter reveals how difficult it is to do justice to complex matters; to do justice to the meanings of art – or to any subject that explores history, ethics or anthropology.

Not so long ago we were cautioned to think carefully about the words we use. We were taught to avoid any form of slickness. Thinking – hard thinking – was prized. Much of that has been lost.

But Sona Datta underlines the importance of that earlier tradition. I think she is exemplary.


One internet source tells us that Sona Datta ‘is an art historian and museum curator, specialising in the visual culture of south Asia. She completed her BA in Art History at Kings College, Cambridge; her MA in South Asian studies at SOAS; and her PhD at Cardiff on Temple architecture in medieval Tamil Nadu.‘  She worked for eight years at the British Museum where her exhibitions included the ‘Voices of Bengal’ season (2006). She writes on modernism in Indian art and, as a curator, her acquisition of contemporary art from Pakistan helped redefine the British Museum’s engagement with contemporary south Asia.

From 2014 she will take up a new role as Lead Curator for Indian & South Asian Art at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts.


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