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[COMMUNITY] Vishakha N. Desai - 1st Woman/AA to Head Asia Society

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  • madchinaman
    Asia Society Appoints Art Historian as President By DINITIA SMITH http://www.nytimes.com/2004/04/01/arts/design/01DESA.html?
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 4, 2004
      Asia Society Appoints Art Historian as President
      By DINITIA SMITH
      http://www.nytimes.com/2004/04/01/arts/design/01DESA.html?
      ex=1081400400&en=db9405e3e207086f&ei=5062&

      The Asia Society, founded in 1956 by John D. Rockefeller III to
      foster understanding of Asia, has a new president, Vishakha N.
      Desai, the first woman and the first Asian-American to head the
      organization.

      Ms. Desai, who was trained as a scholar of classical Indian art and
      was a performer and teacher of South Indian dance, has been senior
      vice president and director of the society's museum and cultural
      programs since 1990. She succeeds Nicholas Platt, a former
      ambassador to Pakistan, who is to retire on July 1, after 12 years
      as president.

      The appointment is to be announced today by Richard C. Holbrooke,
      chairman of the society's board. "It was a gender-blind and ethnic-
      blind process," he said of the search for a new director. "But she
      came in and just convinced the selection panel she was most fit to
      do this." Ms. Desai won the job over candidates who included an
      American ambassador and a university president, Mr. Holbrooke said.
      She is married to Robert B. Oxnam, a China scholar, who was the Asia
      Society's president from 1981 to 1992.

      Ms. Desai's appointment continues this organization's evolution from
      an elite club of Foreign Service hands — devotees of Asian culture,
      most of them white and male — to a center with a broad cultural and
      educational purpose covering more than 30 countries, with offices in
      Washington, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Hong Kong, Manila,
      Shanghai and Melbourne, Australia.

      In addition to housing a gemlike collection of ancient Asian art,
      built on Rockefeller's collection of Chinese ceramics, Indian
      bronzes and Southeast Asian sculptures, the society offers
      exhibitions, film festivals, conferences and educational resources
      for K-12 students. It also maintains Web sites with information on
      Asian politics, business, finance, technology and cuisine.

      "When this organization was founded almost 50 years ago," Ms. Desai
      said in an interview yesterday, Asia seemed "far away and exotic,
      and very much outside our lives, except for the wars we fought, in
      Korea and Vietnam, and with the Japanese."

      "Asian-Americans," she added, "are now among the fastest growing
      ethnic minorities in the country," and one of her missions is to
      bring more of them into the society.

      Born in Ahmedabad, in the Indian state of Gujarat, Ms. Desai, 54, is
      the daughter of Nirubhai Desai, a newspaper editor. Both her father,
      a Brahmin, and her mother, Nirmala, from a wealthy merchant caste,
      were active in the Indian independence movement.

      As a high school senior Ms. Desai was an exchange student in
      California. She received her bachelor's degree from Bombay
      University and a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, where her
      thesis was on the relationship between the text and illustrations in
      the 17th-century Indian love poem "The Connoisseur's Delight."
      Before coming to the Asia Society she was curator of Indian,
      Southeast Asian and Islamic Art at the Museum of Fine Arts in
      Boston.

      Ms. Desai and Mr. Oxnam live in an apartment on Central Park West
      filled with bright splashes of contemporary Asian art.

      "Our mission has never been more important and more relevant," she
      said of the Asia Society. "In the 21st century, the rising powers
      are in Asia — India and China. Surveys show that the majority of our
      kids cannot identify the ocean separating the West Coast from Asia."

      "We must be more competitive," she added. "And we want to use
      culture to bring people to want to know what the political issues
      are."
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