These articles appeared in the Winter ’07 issue of Anokhi Magazine
Five minutes into my first conversation with Deepali Dewan and I’m convinced that she is the ultimate candidate for Anokhi’s Sexy and Successful list. And for all other lists to come, for that matter. The curator of South Asian exhibit at the ROM, Deepali is also the only curator for South Asian art in all of Canada. In the five years that she has been working at the museum, she has doubled the size of the South Asian collection, and has successfully created a new permanent South Asian gallery at the ROM. Deepali also teaches Art History at the University of Toronto, and has published several articles on contemporary and classic art. Oh, and she is also the mother of a one year old baby girl, Kryshna. So when Deepali tells me that she was surprised when I called to tell her that she’d been selected for Anokhi’s Sexy and Successful list, I really can’t understand. It just seems obvious.
‘I guess it’s because I’m young,’ Deepali muses. ‘One normally expects museum curators to be old, and to be closed to new ideas.’ Perhaps, but that’s just one of the many reasons that Deepali is so anokhi. Her inspiring work at the ROM, her original perspective on art, her way of constantly bringing the past and the present together, and her drive and passion for learning are just some of the other reasons.
With an American mother and Punjabi father, and a childhood that was equally divided between the States and India, Deepali has been bringing different cultures and sensibilities together with harmony and grace her entire life. In her professional life as a curator and as a professor, she continues with this trajectory. ‘I see myself as a cultural translator and as an ambassador,’ Deepali shares. In the classroom, she uses Bollywood films and other expressions of contemporary art to help her students understand the classics, the present, and themselves. At the ROM, she has introduced the works of many contemporary and living artists in the historical gallery. ‘I want to show people that South Asia is still a vibrant and living culture,’ Deepali explains.
So what drives her? ‘I have three goals,’ Deepali tells me. The first, she says, is to preserve cultural history for future generations. The South Asian exhibit currently displays over 5000 years of South Asian art, and doubled in size under her supervision. ‘I also want to make sure that South Asian history is recognized as Canadian history,’ Deepali says. ‘Finally, I want to get people excited about history as a way of understanding the present.’
Having fallen victim to the excitement that Deepali speaks of, I am suddenly extremely envious of her students at U of T. It truly is inspiring to hear here speak, and her thirst for knowledge and enthusiasm is highly infectious. I tell Deepali that I would like to audit the class that she’s teaching in the spring. She laughs, and says that it might be already full. I’m not surprised!
‘People…might say that I’m pretty, talented and smart,’ Sumaya muses on her Facebook profile. ‘But they would only say this if I paid them and did their dirty dishes for a week!’
A glance at Sumaya’s profile picture, and a cursory enumeration of her many accolades leave the reader inclined to concur. You would certainly have to bribe someone to say that Sumaya was just pretty, talented and smart. The words ‘stunning superwoman’ spring more readily to mind.
At just 25, Sumaya has accrued an impressive list of accreditation that most of us mere mortals may not attain in several lifetimes. These include:Accolade No. 1: A Marketing Manager at Sun Microsystems, a Fortune 500 Company, Sumaya is the youngest manager in her department.
Accolade No 2: Founder and Executive Director of TheCulturalConnect.com, an online media publishing company with a collection of 5 interlocking websites (The DesiConnect, The MidEastConnect, The AsiaConnect, The AfricanaConnect and The LatinConnect) and e-magazines that facilitate networking between young minority professionals. To date, the site has published over 600 interviews, has a readership in over 100 countries and has received over 2,000,000 hits. Not bad for a spare-time gig.
Accolade No. 3: Sumaya serves as a high school entrepreneur advisor and as a mentor for BUILD ( www.build.org), a social venture that aims at helping underresourced students. Accolade No. 4: Sumaya has been named one of America’s ‘Top 10 Entrepreneurs Under 25’ by BusinessWeek Magazine; CNN has awarded her the distinction of a ‘Young Person Who Rocks’ and she has also been recognised as a 2007 Who’s Who of Global Emerging Leaders. We know that these titles should have been listed separately, but really, we’re running out of space.
So how does she do it all? ‘I strongly advocate having a PhD mentality,’ Sumaya laughs. ‘That is to be poor, hungry and driven.’ The poverty and hunger that fuelled the creation and the success of TheCulturalConnect springs from several factors. Firstly, Sumaya is on a mission to combat ‘the holy Trinity’ of South Asians, namely that in order to be successful, one must either be a lawyer, doctor or engineer. By spotlighting individuals who found success in extremely diverse channels, Sumaya has helped many realise just how many options are open to them. ‘I also became very frustrated with traditional media,’ Sumaya explains. She was determined to remedy what she perceived as a lack of focus on young professionals, on South-Asians, and on non-profit organisations. ‘Amalgamating all these frustrations, I thought the best way to hit all these issues was to create a media platform that could provide information for individuals.’ Hence, TheCulturalConnect was formed.
Fast-forward a year and a half, TheCulturalConnect is hugely successful, and has burgeoning readership, and is constantly expanding. The drive that has driven the success of TheCulturalConnect and Sumaya’s many other endeavours is clearly her own. ‘I feel different from other individuals because I don’t really consider any of my jobs as work as I’m so passionate and enthusiastic about what I do.’
As for being different, we couldn’t agree with Sumaya more. This successful, sexy, and oh-so anokhi 25 year old is definitely special.