Through works from South, Southeast, and East Asia as well as the Himalayas dating from the second through the twentieth centuries, this exhibition examines how Buddhist power was visually expressed and transmitted throughout Asia. The exhibition follows two traces: the perpetuation of Buddhist teachings through the creation of pantheons and lineages, and the exchange and appropriation of sacred Buddhist forms. Selected artworks from BAMPFA’s collection reveal how visual practices were borrowed and traversed cultural, linguistic, and geographic boundaries.
While some works depict the basic tenets of Buddhism, such as cycles of rebirths and Buddhist cosmological space, others illustrate spiritual relationships in the Buddhist pantheon to lend power to both major and minor sacred figures. Sacred relics embedded in sculptural figures or traced footprints on the painted surface imbue the works with ritual power and spiritual presence. Portraits of religious leaders from particular lineages assert the concept of emanation, reincarnation, and teachings. And stories of the Buddha and other powerful figures provide visual lessons for everyday worshippers, while more esoteric images guide advanced practitioners through sacred meditational paths.
(Photo: Figure of Vajravidarna, Eastern Tibet or Southwest China, 11th–12th century; yellow silt stone; on long-term loan to BAMPFA from a private collection.)