Sonya Rhie Mace

Indian and Southeast Asian Art

George P. Bickford Curator of Indian and Southeast Asian Art

Sonya Rhie Mace began her tenure as the curator of Indian and Southeast Asian art at the Cleveland Museum of Art in September 2012. During her first year, she mounted the exhibition Tantra in Buddhist Art and curated the galleries of Indian, Southeast Asian, and Himalayan art following the renovation of the museum’s west wing, completed in 2013. In December 2013, she secured the major acquisition of Mughal and Deccan paintings from the Catherine Glynn Benkaim and Ralph Benkaim Collection, which were the subject of a large-scale exhibition, Art and Stories from Mughal India, as part of the museum’s centennial year celebrations in 2016. The accompanying publication, Mughal Paintings: Art and Stories, introduces and catalogues the recent acquisitions.

She has been active in research, restitution, and reconstruction efforts pertaining to the museum’s important holdings of sculpture from Cambodia. Her most recent exhibition, Revealing Krishna: Journey to Cambodia’s Sacred Mountain, open from November 14, 2021, to January 30, 2022, and accompanying publication feature a new restoration of the museum’s monumental stone sculpture Krishna Lifting Mount Govardhan in the context of the site from which it came. In fall 2017, her exhibition Beyond Angkor: Cambodian Sculpture from Banteay Chhmar featured an unprecedented loan of a bas-relief from a temple enclosure wall of c. 1200 from the National Museum of Cambodia, which resulted from the signing of a cultural cooperation agreement with the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts of the Kingdom of Cambodia.

Active in the Joint Program in Art History with Case Western Reserve University, she is an adjunct professor, teaching courses on topics in the art of India and global medieval monuments and manuscripts.

Before joining the Cleveland Museum of Art, Sonya was the curator of Asian art at the San Diego Museum of Art, where she was in charge of the renowned Edwin Binney 3rd Collection of Indian Paintings. Rhythms of India: Art of Nandalal Bose was one of her noteworthy traveling exhibitions, organized in conjunction with the National Museum of Modern Art in New Delhi and the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2008. During her time in San Diego, she taught courses in Indian and Himalayan art at UCLA, UC Irvine, and UC San Diego.

She completed her BA at Smith College in South Asian art and religion in 1993, and in 1999 she received her PhD in Indian and South Asian art at Harvard University, where her dissertation focused on early Indian sculpture. The book that grew out of her doctoral work, History of Early Stone Sculpture at Mathura, ca. 150 BCE–100 CE (Brill 2007), provides a comprehensive analysis and chronology of the earliest known stone sculptures from the ancient cosmopolitan center of Mathura in northern India, with an emphasis on the formulation of figural images of the Buddha and Jinas. She continues to lecture and publish regularly on her ongoing research, most recently focusing on depictions of nuns and women’s fertility rites in early Buddhist relief sculptures of India.

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