East-West Center Gallery
October 11, 2015 – January 24, 2016
Curators: Pheroza J. Godrej, Firoza Punthakey Mistree, Michael Schuster
Exhibition design: Lynne Najita
Presented in cooperation with:
Pheroza J. Godrej, Firoza Punthakey Mistree,
Shangri La – Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art
The Parsis, followers of Zoroastrianism, one of the world’s oldest religions, are a unique community found mostly in South Asia (they are the smallest recognized ethnic group in India). From the 8th through 10th centuries, the Parsis emigrated from Central Asia/Greater Persia when Islam was overtaking the region and marginalizing the once-dominant Zoroastrian religion. The Parsis have been extremely important to India’s modernization and are well-known in industry, commerce, education, government, and the arts. In the 19th century, many Parsis moved to the bustling port of Bombay during the British colonial expansion. During this expansion, they were instrumental in the British-dominated China trade. Living in Canton, China, Parsi merchants imported opium and cotton from India and exported tea and silk to the empire. They often acted as intermediaries for the English and by the late 19th century were educated in English medium schools, embracing features of English dress and culture. As Parsis entered professions within the British colonial administration, they became even further anglicized. After Indian independence in 1947, the special status of the Parsi community was greatly diminished. Because of the high education of Parsi men and women, low birthrate, and the prohibition of intermarriage, the community has been shrinking.
The Zoroastrian religion is presently followed by two major groups: the Zoroastrians of Iran and the Parsis of India. There are less than 70,000 Zoroastrians in India, around 25,000 in Iran, and only around 125,000 Zoroastrians worldwide. This exhibition focuses on Parsi textiles, highlighting aspects of the long and varied development of the Parsi community. Parsi clothing demonstrates elements borrowed from Iran, India, Victorian era England, and China. The exhibit emphasizes the continuity of Parsi culture, giving insight into the Zoroastrian religion and its Persian roots, the history of the community, and its rich and complex culture.
Click here to download the exhibition handout.