The new National Indo-American Museum in Lombard officially opens its doors to the public on Saturday.
Originally built as a midcentury medical office, the structure has been remodeled to become a museum to showcase the art and experiences of Americans who can trace their roots to the Indian subcontinent.
“This is very much a grass-roots museum. This is no single collection or an individual bequest to start it,” said National Indo-American Museum President Elect Harpreet Datt, who is also one of the nonprofit’s founders.
The museum traces its roots to the 1990s as a social service and cultural organization for Indian immigrants. The organization was incorporated as the Indo-American Heritage Museum in 2008 with a rented Chicago location near the Devon Avenue corridor famed for its restaurants and businesses.
The museum’s push for a physical building of its own started in 2018. The Lombard museum is nearly 7,000 square feet and features galleries and offices on two floors. The building, also known as the Umang and Paragi Patel Center, is named after the museum’s main donors.
“This museum is one of the first of its kind in the U.S.,” said Datt about the institution’s Indo-American focus. “We also have a lot of support from Lombard village officials and people who are happy that we are reusing this building as a museum.”
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The opening exhibit is called “E/Merge: Art of the Indian Diaspora,” and it would fit right in at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art.
“It was quite an important act to start this museum with a contemporary art exhibition that celebrates Indian Americans and art of the diaspora,” said exhibit curator Shaurya Kumar, who is also the chair of faculty and an associate professor at the School of the Art Institute Chicago.
Kumar strove to make the exhibit as diverse as possible by choosing nine Indian American artists of different backgrounds, genders, ethnicities and sexual orientations. They all also work in different artistic mediums ranging from sculpture to site-specific installations.
“India is an incredibly diverse country, so it’s important to celebrate that diversity and inclusivity when you’re talking about the Indian diaspora,” Kumar said. “It’s really as inclusive as an art exhibit as possible.”
Datt and Kumar hope that the National Indo-American Museum in Lombard will join the ranks of other Chicago-area cultural and ethnic institutions like the National Museum of Mexican Art in the Pilsen neighborhood or the National Hellenic Museum in Greektown.
“We are representing the diversity and remain committed to the inclusiveness of the community — both Indian Americans and communities that we have resided in,” Datt said. “It is to have a space where we are not only reaching out to the non-Indian American community, but we are also reaching out within the Indian American population to tell the story of each other.”