Bringing historical paintings and sculptures from mainly Hindu and Buddhist traditions together with contemporary photo-based work, Divine Bodies invites you to ponder the power of transformation, the possibility of transcendence and the relationship of the body to the cosmos.
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The exhibition is organized into thematic sections that encourage us to look at objects not only as artworks but also as devotional images and ask, “How can we see the human in the divine and the divine in the human?”
The first section, Transience and Transcendence, reveals the implicit connection between time and eternity. Over 100 interviewees in David and Hi-Jin Hodge’s video work Impermanence reflect on how human lives, although transitory, can have meaning. Hauntingly beautiful photographs by artist Gauri Gill of ephemeral graves in the desert, as well as a Tibetan thangka that captures both the decease of the historical Buddha and his attainment of immortality, also speak to life and its eventual end.
Embodying the Sacred considers the body as a powerful form of communication, presenting a provocative juxtaposition of sculptural portraits of the Buddha from China, Indonesia, India, Thailand and Pakistan. A sensual bronze Shiva from Tamil Nadu, a beautiful gilded copper White Tara from Nepal, a stone sculpture of the ferocious Thunderbolt Tara and humorous depictions of the gods in Vivan Sundaram’s series Khajuraho bring to life the exhibition’s third section, The Many Aspects of Divinity. Pamela Singh’s composite photographs taken in urban landscapes also evoke this theme by simultaneously suggesting the presence and absence of the artist.
Divine Metamorphosis, the final section, groups together several distinct bodily forms of a single Hindu or Buddhist deity, suggesting the centrality of transformation to our understanding of the divine. The Hindu god Vishnu is depicted in various forms, from cosmic pillar to wild boar to flute-playing Krishna, while photographs by Dayanita Singh from the series Mona Ahmed document the lived reality of self-transformation in India’s eunuch community.
Ultimately, these diverse images of gods and goddesses, buddhas and bodhisattvas, humans and their landscapes — past and present — lead us to reflect on how to find meaning in an impermanent world.
Top Image: The Buddhist deity Guhyasamaja (detail), approx. 1400–1500. China; Beijing, Ming dynasty (1368–1644). Bronze with gilding. Asian Art Museum, The Avery Brundage Collection, B64B23. Photograph © Asian Art Museum.