Brahmal Vasudevan, founder of Southeast Asia private equity firm Creador, and lawyer Shanthi Kandiah have made a significant contribution to Princeton University via a new professorship, which aims to profile South Asian art and catapult it to global reach. It will create a meeting point for a diverse group of talent to share ideas, opening the door to more cross-pollination of programmes and ideas between South Asia and the US.
The Vidya Dehejia Professorship of South Asian Art, announced by The Princeton Board of Trustees on Sept 22, is expected to encourage greater research of India's art heritage, while elevating the country's profile and reinforcing Princeton's strengths in liberal arts and art history. The contribution was made via the couple’s Alaka Holdings Trust, which firmly supports philanthropic efforts in three main areas: education, healthcare and humanitarian relief, and arts and culture.
“Shanthi and I feel it is important that we make contributions to the societies we live in. While we are Malaysians at heart, we have been fortunate to live in some of the most vibrant cities of the world [such as] Singapore, London, Boston, Palo Alto and New Delhi," says Brahmal.
“However, we found that it was difficult to appreciate Indian art when you live in cities outside of India. With India increasingly becoming an important part of the global ecosystem, we believe more and more people will want to understand the rich and varied culture of this huge country.”
A visit to the Chola: Sacred Bronzes of Southern India presented by the Royal Academy of Arts in London in 2006 (of which Vidya authored a catalog on Chola Tamil bronzes) and rediscovering their passion for South Asian art while living in New Delhi, led the couple to delve into many of Vidya's books on Indian art. The Barbara Stoler Miller Professor Emeritus of Indian Art at Columbia University was previously the director of the South Asia Institute at Columbia University.
“We were particularly impressed with how she had dedicated her entire career to the learning and dissemination of Indian art knowledge. The study of temples and certain monuments in India is quite controlled, and Vidya was undeterred in her study of them. We felt it was important that her work, and the stature of South Asian art, be cemented in the academic world,” describes Shanti about the couple’s first exchange with Vidya when they reached out to her in 2013.
She adds, “The perfect way, we felt, was by partnering a prestigious university on a professorship, as a complement to a liberal arts education. Our decision centred on the idea that people should use their time in college to explore not just the field of study that they are pursuing, but also to explore other areas of interest.”
Brahmal has always believed that the evolution of South Asian art, from its initial religious roots to the complex and vibrant contemporary art of today, mirrors the growth of South Asia. The professorship will not only promote a better understanding of the region’s history but also lend greater insight into the cultural and societal influences shaping the sub-continent.
“Princeton has an amazing reputation in liberal arts and in art history, and we felt would benefit the most from a professorship in South Asian art. The professorship creates a meeting point for a diverse group of talent working independently to come together to share ideas, which in turn opens the door to more cross-pollination of programmes and ideas between South Asia and the United States,” he explains.
The pair’s philanthropic efforts include the construction of a teaching hospital in Malaysia; direct aid to support the COVID response infrastructure in India, Malaysia and Indonesia; and, as a gift to Brahmal's alma mater Imperial College London, the establishment of Brahmal Vasudevan Institute for Sustainable Aviation.