Ayesha Abdur-Rahman is a decorative arts historian, and founder of the Lanka Decorative Arts, established in 2010. LDA convenes international conferences on various related decorative arts themes. The last three were - 2018 Tradition or Trans/formation? Craft, Practice and Discourse, an Interdisciplinary and Trilingual Conference on Craft; 2016 The Kitchen: Culinary Ethnology in Sri Lanka; and 2013 Ivory and the Elephant: A Historical Perspective.
She has published a digital archive on Furniture in Sri Lanka including the National Museums, and private collections for the DLIR.org (Digital Library of International Research). She has presented papers at academic conferences and is working on a book based on her dissertation on Furniture in Sri Lanka.
Ayesha has a BA, Central St. Martin’s College of Art and Design, UK; MA in the History of Decorative Arts, The Bard Graduate Center, New York, NY; and PhD, PGIAR, University of Kaleniya, Sri Lanka.

What attracted you to the BGC’s program?
In 1993 I was living in Puerto Rico and after my first degree in design I wanted to get back to art history, so I started exploring MA programs in the decorative arts and found Cooper Hewitt, Winterthur and BGC. The other two were focused on American decorative arts, and I was looking for a broader interdisciplinary program and found out that BGC had just begun a MA program in 1993. I applied and was accepted into the 1994 class and moved to NYC where I lived for over ten years.

What was your focus of study here, how did you find yourself involved with it?At BGC I wanted to get a good overall background on the decorative arts, so I took courses in ancient art with Professor Elizabeth Simpson and these courses gave me a historical foundation to build on. I took all courses offered at this time in non western decorative arts, in African, Chinese, Korean and Japanese arts, and included Medieval art and courses at the MMA. I interned at the Brooklyn Museum’s Department of African and Oceanic Art under the curator Bill Seigman and spend many good hours working in the storage rooms, and picked my thesis topic analyzing a little known group of 19th and early 20th century beaded body ornaments in southern Africa. Beadwork of the South African Nguni People (Xhosa and Zulu Peoples)”General Principles and Guidelines for Attribution.

Describe your position and how you came to it. What sort of projects are you working on?

In 2010 I formed and registered a non-profit association called the LDA – Lanka Decorative Arts and have convened five international conferences. For details see www: srilankadecorativearts.org. I am currently working on a book for the National Trust of Sri Lanka based on my dissertation, Sri Lankan Furniture up to the Colonial Period. On extended summer visits from Puerto Rico to Sri Lanka during 2007 to 2009 I worked on a documentation project for dlir.org on colonial furniture in national and private collections and produced my first digital archive. At this time I began an MPhil/PhD program at the PGIAR - Postgraduate Institute of Archeological Research, to study the development of furniture in Sri Lanka. This took me to all the ancient archeological cites for stone furniture, Buddhist temples for representational furniture painted on walls, and discovered extant wooden furniture derived from indigenous, traditional and hybrid styles. This resulted in my dissertation on the Furniture of Sri Lanka up to the Colonial Period. This extensive research took five years and I was conferred my PhD in 2015.

How has your experience at BGC helped your career?

BGC was an amazing experience for me with brilliant faculty and advisors. Combining the strenuous academic style with some hands on courses, I learned to write analytically about artifacts, and understand the material culture and social history of objects. I became an objects historian.