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Exhibition exploring 1,500 years of Buddhist art in Thailand opens at the Asian Civilisations Museum
Candleholder (Sattaphan), Lamphun, 1917. Gilded wood, inlaid with mirrored glass, 179 x 182 x 56.5 cm. Hariphunchai National Museum, Lamphun.

SINGAPORE.- The Asian Civilisations Museum is presenting an exhibition illustrating the diversity of Buddhist art in Thailand over 1,500 years. Enlightened Ways: The many streams of Buddhist Art in Thailand is on display at the ACM from until 17 April 2013. Featuring over 100 important works drawn from national museums across Thailand, some of which have never been exhibited outside the country, this exhibition is the most comprehensive of its kind ever organised.

Influences and exchanges between many cultures contributed to the rich tapestry of Thai Buddhist art over the last millennium. Buddhism arrived from India some time before the fifth century. It was not an unchanging, single set of beliefs. Indeed, several types of Buddhism mixed with Hinduism and spirit worship. The art forms created in Thailand reflect this special blend – they are shaped by different cultures and traditions, by the differing tastes of local communities, and by exchanges brought about through trade and conflict.

The exhibition explores the many unique styles that developed in the making of Buddha images, and other decorative and ritual objects, throughout the Thai peninsula from the sixth century to the present day. The wide range of Buddhist art is seen through sculptures, furniture, jewellery, paintings, manuscripts, and ceramics. On display for the first time is a highlight from the ACM’s own collection – a 31-metre long brightly decorated scroll that recounts the story of the Buddha’s past life as Prince Vessantara.

The exhibition also takes a look at two major themes that are still important to religion and culture in Thailand today. Influences from Brahmanism, the early form of Hinduism, can still be seen, and Ganesha the elephant-headed god remains one of the most popular deities in Thailand. Another important concept of Thai Buddhism is the accumulation of merit, which can contribute to one’s future and pave the way for enlightenment. Making merit through art has taken many different forms through the ages, from the creation of Buddha images and clay tablets, to textile furnishings and amulets.

“Buddhist art in Thailand is a marvellous multi-layered experience. Over the past 1,500 years it has developed impressive forms, but also absorbed many beliefs and cultures. We can all learn a great deal about the creativity that has gone into religious expressions, up to the present day,” says Dr Alan Chong, director of the Asian Civilisations Museum.

“This exhibition is a step towards appreciating the many ways in which Thai artists and patrons have worked ceaselessly to express what is most meaningful to them about the Buddha’s life and teachings,” says Heidi Tan, principal curator at the ACM and curator of the exhibition. “We hope that visitors will gain a better understanding of the many cultures that helped shape Thai Buddhist art over the ages.”

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