A new MoMA exhibition will dive deep into modern architecture in post-colonial South Asia

Agent of Change

A new MoMA exhibition will dive deep into modern architecture in post-colonial South Asia

Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur, India. 1959–66. Kanvinde & Rai (est. 1955). Architect: Achyut Kanvinde (1916–2002). Engineer: Shaukat Rai (1922–2003). Walkways linking major buildings. (From the Kanvinde Archives)

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) has announced a forthcoming exhibition that will examine the ways in which modern architecture culture in South Asia after colonial rule has given “shape and expression to idealistic societal visions and emancipatory politics of the post-independence period.” Specifically, the exhibition The Project of Independence: Architectures of Decolonization in South Asia, 19471985 will explore key projects and players in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

On view from February 20, 2022, through July 2, 2022, The Project of Independence is organized by Martino Stierli, the Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design; Anoma Pieris, guest curator and professor at the University of Melbourne, and Sean Anderson, former MoMA associate curator.

architectural drawling of a civic building in new delhi, india
Hall of Nations, Pragati Maidan, New Delhi, India. 1970–72. Demolished 2017. Raj Rewal Associates (est. 1962). Architect: Raj Rewal (b. 1934). Engineer: Mahendra Raj (b. 1924). Perspective drawing. c. 1970. Pencil on tracing paper, 37 3/8 × 76 3/4 in. (95 × 195 cm). Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou

Joined by Evangelos Kotsioris, assistant curator in the museum’s Department of Architecture and Design, the curatorial team also consulted with a number of scholars focused on modern architecture in the region; many of these scholars—including Kazi Khaleed Ashraf, Nonica Datta, Prajna Desai, Da Hyung Jeong, Farhan Karim, Saloni Mathur, Rahul Mehrotra, Mrinalini Rajagopalan, Peter Scriver, and Amit Srivastava—also contributed to the exhibition’s accompanying scholarly catalog, which will include archival reproductions and images by New Delhi-born architectural photographer Randhir Singh. Per MoMA, the forthcoming catalog will rank as “one of the few publications to offer a transnational discussion of modern architecture in South Asia” when published next year.

The exhibition itself will be organized around a quartet of thematic sections that, according to MoMA, “both exemplify the transnational, shared conditions of decolonization and call attention to the expression of a modernist architectural idiom in response to specific conditions, such as materials available, craft traditions, or the organization of labor:”

archival photo of a modernist building in new delhi
Hindustan Lever Pavilion, Pragati Maidan, New Delhi, India. 1961. Demolished. Charles Correa (1930–2015), and Mahendra Raj (b. 1924). Exterior view. (Mahendra Raj Archives)

The sections are: Institution Building, which will feature, among other key projects, Charles Correa and Mahendra Raj’s Sardar Vallabhai Patel Municipal Stadium in Ahmedabad (1959–66); Education will spotlight a range of works including Muzharul Islam’s College of Arts and Crafts (Institute of Fine Arts) at Dhaka University, Bangladesh (1953–55); Political Spaces will spotlight key projects such as Raj Rewal and Mahendra Raj’s Hall of Nations in Pragati Maidan, New Delhi (1970–72), and Industry and Infrastructure, featuring Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa’s Ceylon Steel Corporation Office Building at Oruwela (1966–69) and Achyut Kanvinde’s Dudhsagar Dairy in Mehsana, India (1970–73).

Among these the sections, The Project of Independence will also feature key projects by a generous handful of trailblazing architects from the region including India’s Balkrishna V. Doshi, who is the sole Pritzker Prize laureate (2018) hailing from South Asia to date; Minnette de Silva, the first licensed woman architect in Sri Lanka, and the Jane Drew Prize-winning Yasmeen Lari, who is Pakistan’s first female architect.

contemporary view of a railway station in pakistan
Kamalapur Railway Station, Dhaka, East Pakistan (Bangladesh). 1968. Louis Berger and Consulting Engineers (est. 1953). Daniel Dunham (1929–2000) and Robert Boughey (b. 1940). Exterior view. (Photograph: Randhir Singh)

As noted by the museum, a shared thread across all four individual sections will touch upon how “material cultures shaped an experimental expression of modern architecture in the region, leveraging localized conditions of largely pre-industrial labor.”

Accentuating the thematic sections will be newly commissioned photographs by Singh, which present “some of the region’s most impactful projects through a contemporary lens.” Students from the Cooper Union will also construct a number of models of “particularly inventive” projects for the exhibition including Valentine Gunasekara’s Tangalle Bay Hotel in Sri Lanka (1968—1972) and Anwar Said’s “C” Type Mosque (Ahle Hadith Mosque) in Islamabad (1969–73/1975–77).

archival photo of a sri lankan hotel with boaters
Tangalle Bay Hotel, Tangalle, Ceylon (Sri Lanka). 1969–72. Architects: Valentine Gunasekara (1931–2017) and Christopher de Saram (1939–2018). Engineer: Jayati Weerakoon (1928–2021). Exterior view from the water. (From the Valentine Gunasekara Archives)

“By focusing on the prolific and diverse work conceived and realized by local, rather than international, architects, designers, and planners, The Project of Independence will consider the region’s architectural production as an active force in the drive for independence and self-determination,” MoMA noted in its announcement.

Keep an eye out for AN’s forthcoming Best of Design issue, which will feature a conversation between AN editor-in-chief Aaron Seward and Stierli about The Project of Independence as well as the Department of Architecture and Design’s broader efforts to steer collection presentations and exhibitions towards new, non-Western approaches. Falling under that umbrella is Renew, Recycle: Recent Architecture from Chinawhich opened September 16 and is currently on view through July 4, 2022.