Exhibit celebrates 120 years of South Asians at Oxford

22 April 2010

Oxford University's long history with South Asia and its students will be brought to life in an innovative new exhibition showing history through the lives of ten South Asian Oxford graduates.

The exhibition, Oxasians, illustrates the longstanding and dynamic history of Oxford's South Asian community through a timeline allowing viewers to come face to face with images and documents showing the lives of ten individuals who came to Oxford to study between 1889 and 2009. The unusual and unknown sides of people including Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be brought to life thanks to the installation, which combines dramatizations by actors with life-size hologram style projections and exclusive film interviews alongside archival material.

Oxford's south Asian community has long been an important part of the university's diverse student body, and the ten individuals featured in the exhibit span 120 years of this history. They include Cornelia Sorabji, the first woman to study law at Oxford and the first female Indian barrister, cricketers Iftikar Ali Khan and Mansur Ali Khan, former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Indian students are today the sixth-largest national population at Oxford, and the second fastest-growing group. The University currently has around 450 South Asian students, along with more than 1,100 alumni and six alumni branches in India alone. The Oxasians exhibit also looks to the future in featuring British Indian Rajeeb Dey, a 2009 graduate and former president of Oxford Entrepreneurs. In 2005 Dey founded Enternships.com, a venture providing 'entrepreneurial internships' to students.

Dey said: 'To be profiled in Oxasians amongst such prominent South Asian alumni from the University of Oxford is a true honour. It demonstrates how Oxford has touched the lives of world-renowned figures over 200 years who have gone on to make a huge contribution to society.

'I hope this project will help inspire a new generation of Oxasians-many of whom I am sure will go on to achieve great things and follow in the footsteps of luminaries such as Indira Gandhi and Manmohan Singh.'

Oxford's South Asian history traces back around 400 years: The first recorded Englishman to arrive in India was from Oxford (Father Thomas Stephens from New College, in 1579). His letters lay the foundation of Anglo-Indian literature. The University's relationship with South Asia remains stronger than ever in the 21st century. In 2008, the University of Oxford launched the one-year MSc in Contemporary India, the first of its kind in the world. It also offers master's degrees in Contemporary South Asian Studies, Tibetan and Himalayan Studies, and Classical Indian Religions, among others. The recent exhibition Indian Traces in Oxford celebrated the University's relationship with India in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, exploring the journeys of Indian students, politicians, writers and critics through Oxford as part of a major three-year project studying the Indian diaspora.

Heather Bell, Oxford University Director of International Strategy, said: 'Following on from the Indian Traces in Oxford exhibition at the Bodleian in March, it's terrific to have this new opportunity to celebrate the skills and diverse perspectives that South Asian students have brought to Oxford.

'Oxford's strong relationship with South Asia is deepening all the time, through research collaborations in physics, cancer, and child poverty, a thriving Oxford University Press, and a new MSc in Contemporary India that showcases Oxford's status as a world-leading centre for the study of South Asia.'

Oxasians was produced by Talking Pictures on behalf of Arts Asia and launches at Oxford's Pitt Rivers Museum on Friday, 23 April.

For more information or to schedule an interview with Rajeeb Dey please contact the Press & Information Office, University of Oxford on +44 (0)1865 280530 or press.office@admin.ox.ac.uk.

Alternatively, contact Neena Sohal, Oxasians project manager, on +44 (0) 7766 942 030 or neena@talkingpicturesltd.com

Full list of Oxasians included in the exhibit:

1889 - Cornelia Sorabji - (Somerville College) - first woman to study law at Oxford and first
female Indian Barrister
1890 - Princesses Catherine & Bamba Duleep Singh (Somerville College) - daughters of
Maharajah Duleep Singh
1919 - Solomon Ridgeway Bandaranaike - (Christ Church College) former Prime Minister of
Sri Lanka
1929 - Iftikar Ali Khan Pataudi (Balliol College) - Cricketer, played for both England and India
1937 - Indira Gandhi (Somerville College) - former Prime Minister of India
1956 - Ved Mehta (Balliol College) - author
1960 - Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi (Balliol College) - former captain of Indian cricket team
1962- Manmohan Singh - (Nuffield College) current Prime Minister of India
1973 - Benazir Bhutto (Lady Margaret Hall) - former Prime Minister of Pakistan
2009 - Rajeeb Dey (Jesus College) - young entrepreneur

Interview extract:

'She had a trademark yellow sports car and she said to me, looking very woeful, "I really did write the essay but I left it in my sports car and somebody stole the essay". I said,"Benazir, do you really expect me to believe this, that somebody stole your essay, rather than your car?"' Gillian Peele, Senior Tutor, Lady Margaret Hall and Benazir Bhutto's politics tutor 

Notes to Editors:

  • Oxford's historical relationship with India traces back 400 years: The first recorded Englishman to arrive in India was from Oxford (Father Thomas Stephens from New College, in 1579). His letters lay the foundation of Anglo-Indian literature.
  • The first Oxford professorship relating to India was established in 1832; Indian students first came to Oxford in 1871, when entry opened to non-clergy; and Oxford's Indian Institute was founded in 1883.
  • There are more than 1,100 graduates of Oxford living in India, and there are Oxford and Cambridge Societies in Mumbai, New Delhi, Kolkata, Bangalore, Pune, Lahore, Karachi, and Islamabad.
  • More recent milestones include the founding of the Asian Studies Centre at St Antony's College (1982); the appointment of Oxford's first Professor of Indian History and Culture (2002); and the first MSc in Contemporary India (2008). Oxford currently is home to more than 40 academics who work on South Asia.
  • Oxasians has been funded by a grant from the Heritage Lottery fund, and volunteer members of Arts Asia have carried out the research and development of the project. Admission is free.
  • The Oxasians exhibition tour will be launched at The Pitt Rivers on Friday 23 April (1 - 3pm), where sponsors, organisers, interviewees and actors will be available for interview. Please contact Neena Sohal if you are able to send a journalist and/or photographer. 
  • The exhibition will tour to the Oxford Record Office, Cowley, (5 May - 15 May) Slough Museum (19 May - 29 May), Reading Museum (2 June - 16 June). 
  • The Pitt Rivers Museum is one of Oxford's most popular attractions, famous for its period atmosphere and outstanding collections from many cultures around the world, past and present. 
  • Pitt Rivers opening hours: 10.00-16.30 Tuesday - Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday; 12.00-16.30 Monday.