Siddhartha Shah

(AMHERST, Mass., Aug. 10, 2022) — Amherst College announced today that Siddhartha V. Shah, director of education and civic engagement and the curator of South Asian art at the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM), has been named the John Wieland 1958 Director of the College’s Mead Art Museum. Shah will take over the reins of the Mead from interim director Michael Kunichika–who is director of the Amherst Center for Russian Culture and an associate professor of Russian at Amherst–on Nov. 15.

In his new role, Shah will oversee the museum’s collections, acquisitions, exhibitions and programs, as well as a variety of initiatives aimed at deepening engagement with the community both on and off campus. He will work closely with faculty members across disciplines to make the Mead’s resources available for their courses, research and creative work; with students to foster their involvement with the museum as interns, docents, artists, scholars and visitors; and with area schools and community organizations to expand programming in the region. In addition, he will serve as the museum’s chief fundraiser.

“Siddhartha impressed us with his background and experience, and with his commitment to education, collaboration and broadening access to art on our campus and beyond,” said Catherine Epstein, provost, dean of the faculty and Henry Steele Commager Professor of History. “We are eager to see his vision at work at the museum and the new directions in which he takes the Mead.”

Fostering intersectional learning and cross-cultural understanding through the arts has long been a guiding principle of Shah’s life and career. That philosophy has shaped his curatorial work, as well as his commitment to education and community engagement, he said. “I aspire to help people see their lives and experiences reflected back at them, through objects and stories from cultures that may be completely different from their own,” he explained. “This is how art helps us better understand ourselves and each other. This is how art can break down barriers to grow and nourish a community. I am excited to do my own part to do exactly that at the Mead, the College and in Western Massachusetts.”

Shah joined PEM in 2018 and served first as the curator of South Asian art and then added director of education and civic engagement to his title in 2020. Prior to that he operated the Siddhartha V. Shah Fine Art in Berkeley, Calif., and New York, and also worked as an art consultant and gallery director. As a curator, he specializes in Hindu and Buddhist art of the Kathmandu Valley, visual and material culture of Victorian India, 19th century European painting, and modern Indian art. Among other notable accomplishments, Shah curated the installation of PEM’s new South Asian Art Galleries to consider how colonial occupation shaped ideas and perceptions of India that persist today. The project shed new light on the museum’s renowned Chester and Davida Herwitz Collection of modern Indian Art and what it reveals about nation-building and self-discovery. Most recently, he curated the exhibition Zachari Logan: Remembrance, which opened in May 2022.

Shah received a bachelor of arts degree in art history from Johns Hopkins University, a master’s in East-West psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies, and a doctorate in art history from Columbia University. He was a member of the 2020-21 City of Salem (Mass.) Race Equity Task Force and currently serves on the boards of the American Council for Southern Asian Art, the Salem (Mass.) YMCA, the Advisory Council of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect and the Professional Alliance for Curators of Color (Association of Art Museum Curators).

About the Mead Art Museum

Established with funds bequeathed by William Rutherford Mead (class of 1867), a partner in the storied architectural firm of McKim, Mead and White, the Mead Art Museum holds the 19,000-object art collection of Amherst College, representing a wide range of historical periods, national schools and artistic media. The Mead’s collection includes American and European paintings and the Thomas P. Whitney, class of 1937, Collection of Russian Art, as well as Mexican ceramics, Tibetan scroll paintings, an English paneled room, ancient Assyrian carvings, West African sculpture, Korean ceramics, Japanese prints and fine holdings of American furniture and silver.

About the Peabody Essex Museum

Over the last 20 years, the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) has distinguished itself as one of the fastest-growing art museums in North America. Founded in 1799, it is also the country’s oldest continuously operating museum. At its heart is a mission to enrich and transform people's lives by broadening their perspectives, attitudes and knowledge of themselves and the wider world. PEM celebrates outstanding artistic and cultural creativity through exhibitions, programming and special events that emphasize cross-cultural connections, integrate past and present and underscore the vital importance of creative expression. The museum's collection is among the finest of its kind, boasting superlative works from around the globe and across time--including American art and architecture; Asian export art; photography;  maritime art and history; Native American, Oceanic, Asian, and African art; and one of the nation’s most important museum-based collections of rare books and manuscripts. PEM’s campus offers a varied and unique visitor experience with hands-on creativity zones, interactive opportunities and performance spaces. Twenty-two noted historic structures grace PEM’s campus, including Yin Yu Tang, a 200-year-old Chinese house that is the only example of Chinese domestic architecture on display in the United States.

Photo by Shane Corcoran