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Pakistani Art Makes U.S. Debut at Asia Society Museum Amid Political Challenges
So-called winged Aphrodite leaning against a pillar. Pakistan. 1st century CE. Gold. H. 2 1/2 in. (6.3 cm). National Museum of Pakistan, Karachi, SK.29-1507/2. Photo by Peter Oszvald, © Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Bonn.

By: Paula Rogo

NEW YORK, NY (REUTERS).- An exhibit of rare Buddhist sculptures, architectural reliefs and works of gold and bronze is opening at the Asia Society Museum on Tuesday after a long and tumultuous journey from Pakistan.

The works, many of which have never been shown before in the United States, are from the historically rich Gandharan region of Pakistan.

They had originally been scheduled to be shown in March but roadblocks, U.S. visa problems for Pakistani officials accompanying the works and a new Pakistani law delayed the opening until this month.

"Bringing the show was a major feat," said Melissa Chiu, the director of the Asia Society's Museum. "Within the political arena, U.S. and Pakistan have had challenges over the past six months to a year. Even if we are not a government organization, this obviously has a broader impact."

Most of the works in the three-month exhibit, "The Buddhist Heritage of Pakistan: Art of Gandhara," are on loan from the National Museum in Karachi and Lahore Museum in Lahore.

Buddhist art flourished in the region, near present-day Peshawar in northwest Pakistan, between the second and fourth centuries.

"It was an early culture. It was a Buddhist culture and it was one of the first occasions where we see Buddha represented in his figurative form," Chiu explained.

Among the highlights of the exhibit are Vision of a Buddha Paradise from the 4th Century and a winged Aphrodite leaning against a pillar from the 1st Century.

Although Pakistan is a strategic ally of the United States, relations between the two nations has been strained since U.S. forces killed al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in Pakistan on May 2. The raid led to questions about Pakistan's willingness to tackle Islamist militant groups on its soil.

The start of the exhibit was also hampered by a new Pakistani law that shifted decisions about art loans from a central department to the provinces where the museums were located.

"It was not just us on the U.S. side that wanted to bring objects, but people in Pakistan really wanted to see the show happen," Chiu said.

The show is the first Gandharan art exhibit in the United States since 1960 when the Asia Society held the first exhibit on Gandharan sculptures.

"We want people to see the very rich cultural heritage of Pakistan that is lesser known here in the U.S."

(Reporting by Paula Rogo; edited by Patricia Reaney)

© Thomson Reuters 2011. All rights reserved.

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