Paper was introduced into the Mithila painting tradition in the 1960s. The changeover to a portable support for the paintings moved the locus of the artists' efforts out of the home and removed the creation of this art from its ritual setting. Despite the persistence of traditional themes, the change to paper also allowed the women artists to experiment with newer themes, and allowed them a broader freedom of expression. Today it is not unusual to see contemporary social themes and current events incorporated into the Mithila painters' work.
The pieces in this exhibition belong to the H. Daniel Smith Collection, also owned by Syracuse University. Professor Emeritus of Religion H. Daniel Smith taught at Syracuse from the 196's through the 1990s. In addition to the Mithila paintings and Indian brasses found in the University's art collection, he donated some 3000 "god posters" to the Special Collections Research Center in Bird Library, a collection which attracts scholars from around the world.
In 1980, Professor Smith asked his colleague and filmmaker Durai Rajendren to travel to Mithila to collect paintings for him. One hundred were collected, but approximately one-third were lost in transit from India to the United States. The remainder form the collection represented here.
An additional three paintings were collected by the directors of the Ethnic Arts Foundation on a trip to Mithila in 2002. Two were purchased by Professor Emeritus of Anthropology Susan S. Wadley for use in this exhibition, while a third is on loan from the foundation. These three represent crucial shifts in Mithila art work, including two pieces by male artists and one non-religious piece by a woman.