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Visions of Enlightenment: Buddhist Art at the University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology
Four Scenes from the Life of the Buddha, Pakistan-Afghanistan, ancient Gandhara. Kushan dynasty, late 2nd - early 3rd century, Schist. Courtesy of Freer Gallery, Washington, D.C. These panels, which adorned the base of a stupa (reliquary), depict the four great life events of the Buddha. Artists present the climactic moment in each event, focussing each scene on a large image of the Buddha or his mother. Devotees viewed the scenes as they walked clockwise around the mound with their right shoulders toward the enshrined relics.

VANCOUVER.- As Buddhism spread across Asia, symbols and sacred images developed to represent the Buddha and support his teachings. These images offer the devotee and viewer both consistency in the forms of Buddhist art, and a vast array of subtle and obvious differences. The latter illuminate the variety of rituals, religious texts, and beliefs generated over time, culture, and geography. They offer a window into Buddhist philosophy, aesthetics and values, in a marriage of beauty and meaning.

Works included in this exhibition focus on basic Buddhist concepts and images, and reflect the purpose of Buddhist art: why it is made, who made it, for whom, and how it is used; for example, in teaching, facilitating meditation, gaining merit, and for devotional purposes.

The content is presented in 'theme clusters,’ according to such topics as: the Three Treasures of Buddhism, that is the Buddha, Dharma (Teaching), and Sangha (Community); the role of the bodhisattva and teacher; karma; the role of hand gestures (mudra); obtaining merit, ritual, meditation, devotion; and other personal expressions of Buddhist practice.

Objects included represent and illustrate each of the content themes, and offer viewers varied visual experiences. A range of media are represented, including sculptures (made of stone, metal or lacquered wood) paintings, scrolls, ceramics, manuscripts, and textiles. These have been drawn from MOA's Asian collection, as well as from private lenders in British Columbia and from the collection of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.

Visions of Enlightenment shows examples of Buddhist art from the two main Buddhist traditions: the Theravada and Mahayana. In Vancouver, the Mahayana tradition is well represented, and reflects the well-established Chinese, Japanese, and Tibetan communities. The Theravada school is less familiar, and represents the traditions of the smaller Thai, Burmese, and other Southeast Asian groups. The inclusion of Mahayana Buddhist art makes a connection with Vancouver’s Buddhist community, and present Buddhist images that are widely recognized today.

The exhibition is guest curated by Paula Swart, who has been associated with the Museum of Anthropology as a Curator Asia since 2009. She teaches in the University of Victoria Continuing Studies Department, and has lectured on National Geographic Society expeditions to Asia.

Additional curatorial advice is provided by Margo Palmer, current Director of the Canadian Society for Asian Arts. The Society promotes the arts and cultures of Asia through lectures, cultural events, exhibits, and educational programs. MOA Liaison curator is Dr. Carol E. Mayer, Curator Africa/Oceania.

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