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University of Richmond Museums present Religion and Tradition: Objects from Nepal, India, and Tibet
Shiva and Parvati, India or Nepal, seventeenth century, bronze, 7 7/8 x 7 x 5 inches, Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature, University of Richmond Museums, Gift of Gertrude Howland, R2001.03.03

RICHMOND, VA.- The Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature, University Museums, presents Religion and Tradition: Objects from Nepal, India, and Tibet. This new installation features a selection of objects from the museum’s permanent collection, including woodcarvings, jewelry, and bronze statues from Nepal, India, and Tibet. The exhibition highlights the major art forms of the region, and provides an introduction to the religions and culture of the area. It includes examples of traditional craftsmanship used to produce objects for worship in Buddhism and Hinduism, for everyday use, and for trade and tourists.

The ancient Vedic civilization of India lasted from 1500-500 B.C.E. and laid the groundwork for Hinduism and other cultural aspects of early Indian society. Buddhism also has its origins in South Asia, as Lumbini, in modern-day Nepal, was the birthplace of Buddha. Religion is important in all aspects of life in South Asia. Hinduism is the most widely practiced faith in both India and Nepal, while the majority of Tibetans practice Buddhism. Many Nepalese also practice Buddhism, and the two religions have coexisted peacefully in Nepal for over 2,000 years. Art is important in these two religions because of the belief in the connection with the divine through art objects. In Buddhism, art communicates the process of the attainment of enlightenment, the ultimate goal. In Hinduism, the deity reveals itself to devotees on Earth through art.

Hinduism was first practiced in India beginning more than 3,000 years ago. Some evidence suggests the presence of Hinduism in Nepal during the first millennium B.C.E. Several of Hinduism’s thousands of gods and goddesses are featured in works in this installation, including a red sandstone carving of three female heads, dating to the 15th or 16th centuries that most likely once graced a temple.

Buddhism originated in southern Nepal, where Buddha was born in the 6th century B.C.E. He renounced the world at age 29, attained enlightenment at age 35, and reached ultimate nirvana at 80. Followers of Buddhism work to eliminate all traces of selfish concerns and realize compassion towards all living creatures in order to reach enlightenment. An example of a Buddhist work in this installation is a twentieth-century brass sculpture that depicts Buddha in one of his familiar positions, seated with legs crossed, while stretching the fingers of his right hand towards the ground, calling the Earth to witness his enlightenment.

There is a long tradition in South Asia of talented craftsmen creating beautiful works for worship, trade, and for the tourist market. These artisans can be either Hindu or Buddhist; this does not limit them from creating works venerating either religion, owing to the numerous similarities between the two. In Nepal, the most highly regarded types of craft are metalwork and woodwork, and both are represented in this installation.

A seventeenth-century bronze sculpture created by the “lost wax” technique, depicts the divine couple, the god Shiva and his spouse Parvati. This object was most likely used in a home shrine, a common feature in Hindu households, where families pay daily homage to their gods. The installation also features objects sold to tourists. One such example is a wood sculpture of the god Ganesha, probably made in southern India in the late twentieth century.

Organized by the University of Richmond Museums, this installation was co-curated by Richard Waller, Executive Director, University Museums; and Emily Bowden, ’13, anthropology and geography double major, University of Richmond, 2012 Arts and Sciences Summer Research Fellow, and 2012-2013 curatorial assistant, University Museums. Special thanks are extended to John Henry Rice, Associate Curator of South Asian and Islamic Art, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, and to Kerry Lucinda Brown, Adjunct Faculty, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and doctoral candidate, Department of Art History, Virginia Commonwealth University.

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