Monday, March 26, 2018

"Divine Bodies" at the Asian Art Museum

Reclining Buddha. Thai 1000- 1100 

 Bringing historical paintings and sculptures from mainly Hindu and Buddhist traditions together with contemporary photo-based work, "Divine Bodies," now open at the Asian Art Museum, invites you to ponder the power of transformation, the possibility of transcendence and the relationship of the body to the cosmos in works from the Buddhist and Hindu traditions - to see the human in the divine and the divine in the human in multiple ways.

The show is divided into three thematic sections: Transience and Transcendence Embodying the Sacred and Divine Metamorphosis, Divine Bodies invites the viewer to meditate on the power of transformation, and the relationship of the body in the cosmos. 

The first gallery opens with a quote from Kahlil Gibran. "Life and Death are One even as the river and sea are one." As the viewer enters the exhibit, the first sculpture is  a Thai reclining Buddha, who was the revered teacher of Buddhism, the creator of Buddhism and who is seen as both human and divine.

The exhibits in the next gallery are bracketed with another quote from the Western spiritual tradition, this time from William Blake, "Man has no body distance from his soul, for that which is called body is but a portion of soul discerned by the five senses."

Head of a Buddha, Pakistan, Peshawar Valley 300-500 
A wall of the heads of the Buddha from various eras and various cultures shows attempts, from the Chinese to the Thai, to portray their various portraits of the Buddha. The similarities are interesting which is explained that there is a canon in sacred Buddhist art, as in other sacred arts. 



But the divine is not simply one thing or person, it is many - beautiful, sensuous, fierce and gentle. An image of Parvati, from India (1050-1100) represents the the female energy. Voluptuous and utterly feminine, Parvati symbolizes the source of life.  Carrying a mirror, she reminds the devotee that life is an illusion but that the devotee has the ability to see what is ultimately real. Images of Shiva, Parshvanatha, Avalokiteshvara and the buddhist deity Vajra Tara, all portray the beauty of enlightenment and compassion.

The same can't quite be said of the Buddhist deity Ragaraja. Although the viewer is told not to be afraid of him, his angry, red-faced appearance does not inspire trust. But his six jeweled arms, two raised fists, and hair on fire are appropriate for the king of passion.

Vajara Tara India 1075-1200

Divine Metamorphosis, the final section, groups together several distinct bodily forms of a single Hindu or Buddhist deity, suggesting the centrality of transformation to our understanding of the divine. The Hindu god Vishnu is depicted in various forms, from cosmic pillar to wild boar to flute-playing Krishna

Throughout the exhibit, the modern is interposed with the ancient. Aayanta Singh's photos of the hijra or transvestite community end with a video of the main subject of her photos. “Myself Mona Ahmed” is the name of the transsexual who asks herself and us the question, “Who am I.”

Divine Bodies at the Asian Art Museum through June 29, 2018


Carla Ives said...

This looks like a fascinating exhibit! The pieces depicted here are exquisite. I like the way the the history goes from the transcendence of Jesus to the transcendence of the Hindu and Buddhist deities. It's very hard to pick a favorite amongst these works, but I think it would be the Reclining Buddha, followed by the Vajara Tara India.

Grove Wiley said...

Great writeup. :-) I greatly enjoyed seeing it with you. Now: to test my ability to leave a comment!