Exhibition presents Buddhist art from the Himalayan region, spanning centuries and countries
Berkeley, CA, February 13, 2009 - (Download a PDF version of this press release.) The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) presents Taking Refuge: Buddhist Art from the Land of White Clouds, an exhibition of extremely rare and beautiful art from the Himalayan region-sometimes referred to as the Land of White Clouds-which has served as a lasting home to Buddhism. The exhibition, which is curated by Senior Curator for Asian Art Julia M. White, contains over thirty important and beautiful objects from Tibet, Nepal, Kashmir, and India. Taking Refuge: Buddhist Art from the Land of White Clouds opens February 25 and runs through May 3, 2009.
In addition to acknowledging references to the Himalayan region as “the Land of White Clouds,” the exhibition takes its name from a prayer common to all Buddhists: “I take refuge in the Buddha. I take refuge in the Dharma. I take refuge in the Sangha.” This simple prayer contains the essence of the Buddhist canon, referring to the three components of practice that constitute an active devotional life. Depictions of the Buddha, the Dharma (doctrine), and the Sangha (community) aid the believer in understanding, learning, and participating in Buddhist practice.
A gilt bronze standing image of Buddha from western Tibet, created by Kashmiri craftsmen in the tenth or eleventh century, is one of the finest examples from an important transitional phase in Himalayan Buddhism. The Buddha is depicted in a highly symmetrical stance, draped in a tightly fitted robe, his legs planted firmly upon a lotus base. His right hand is raised in abhaya mudra, or fear abiding gesture, while his left hand grasps the edge of his robe. The face of the Buddha is delicately articulated with arched brow and gentle expression. His long earlobes point to the Buddha's previous life as an Indian prince who has since renounced his life of privilege, including the jewels he once wore.
The importance of teachers in the Buddhist tradition cannot be overstated, as the transmission of the Dharma requires a direct and personal relationship with a teacher. Great lamas are honored in many ways, through depiction in paintings and sculpture or in monuments large and small. A bronze stupa in the exhibition demonstrates this tradition, honoring through inscribed verse an important sixteenth-century lama. The stupa once contained the relics of the teacher but now only bears his name. Other items that formally teach the Dharma include paintings depicting important principles like those expressed in the Bardo (Tibetan Book of the Dead). A colorful example can be seen in a pair of eighteenth-century paintings depicting both wrathful and peaceful deities from the Bardo.
Vajrayana Buddhism is the primary teaching in Tibet and the Himalayas, and has absorbed many doctrines that the lamas share with a larger community known as the Sangha. The esoteric doctrine that is passed from the master rimpoche to the disciple relies very heavily on oral transmission accompanied by visual aids such as mandalas, thangkas, and sculptural representations of members of the community. An elegant ninth- or tenth-century gilt bronze Padmapani (an aspect of Avalokitesvara, bodhisattva of compassion) communicates the nature of an important deity, while more earthly qualities are expressed in a sixteenth-century gilt bronze image of the teacher Mahasidda Avadhutipa.
The vast array of images of deities, teachers, protectors, and saints, all of whom receive attention by the devout Buddhist, are understood to be tools in the process of understanding the teachings of the Buddha. Although they are honored, placed on altars and pedestals, and given great respect, the images the practitioner knows have no value in and of themselves.
Curator's Talk – Julia White
Wednesday, March 4, 12:15 p.m.
Taking Refuge Curator Julia White offers an informal walkthrough of the exhibition.
Thinking About Not Thinking: Buddhism, Meditation, and Film
Screenings with Lectures by Robert Sharf
Mondays, March 2–April 27, 3 p.m.
This film-lecture course uses film to understand Buddhism, and Buddhist principles to reflect on film.
In the Museum Store
Buddhist Art and Architecture, by Robert Fisher. $18.95, paperback.
Handbook of Tibetan Buddhist Symbols, by Robert Beer. $27.95, paperback
Programs at the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive are supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Packard Humanities Institute, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, The Bernard Osher Foundation, The Henry Luce Foundation, the Koret Foundation, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the Columbia Foundation, The Christensen Fund, and other private foundations, corporations, government agencies, and individuals, including the BAM/PFA membership. Major endowment support has been provided by the Phyllis C. Wattis Foundation and by George Gund III.
About UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive
The UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) aims to inspire the imagination and ignite critical dialogue through contemporary and historical art and film, engaging audiences from the campus, Bay Area community, and beyond. BAM/PFA is one of the largest university art museums in the United States in terms of attendance, presenting fifteen art exhibitions and 450 film programs each year. The museum's collection of more than 15,000 works includes exceptional examples of mid-twentieth-century painting, including important works by Hans Hofmann, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko, as well as historical and contemporary Asian art, early American painting, Conceptual and contemporary international art, and California and Bay Area art. The PFA film and video collection now includes the largest group of Japanese films outside of Japan, as well as impressive holdings of Soviet silents, West Coast avant-garde cinema, seminal video art, rare animation, Central Asian productions, Eastern European cinema, and international classics.
University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive
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