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Exhibit in Review: “Wonder and Resonance: Constructing and Exhibiting the Visual Culture of Yoga”

 

 

Vishnu Vishvarupa. India, Rajasthan, Jaipur, ca. 1800–20 Opaque watercolor and gold on paper, 38.5 x 28 cm Victoria and Albert Museum, London Given by Mrs. Gerald Clark; IS.33-2006

This past Thursday April 3, 2014, I attended the annual “Distinguished Scholar Lecture,” held at American University, to learn about Dr. Debra Diamond’s Wonder and Resonance: Constructing and Exhibiting the Visual Culture of Yoga exhibit. As the first major exhibition devoted to the visual culture of yoga, now open at the Sackler-Freer Galleries, she discussed the juxtaposition of wondrous and resonant objects to introduce new insights on yoga’s histories as well as presenting the exhibition’s key interpretive and display strategies.

With more than 120 works on display, dated from the third century to the early twentieth century, upon walking into the each room, one is overtaken by the collections of temple sculptures, devotional icons, illustrated manuscripts, court paintings, photographs, books, and films – indicating a mixed media exhibition. One of the greatest accomplishments the curator highlighted was reuniting, for the first time, three monumental stone ‘Yogini’ goddesses, that were donated from a tenth century Chola temple. The title of this exhibition expressed the terms “wonder” and “resonance” to unite the enlightened being with those interested in Yoga and Eastern cultures. From an art historical context, ‘wonder’ signifies the great works of art that demands our attention, in this case it would be the exploration of Visual Culture of Yoga; for the curator, ‘resonance’ refers to the stories and questions that are raised based on context of this esoteric history.

Yogini
Yogini India, Uttar Pradesh, Kannauj First half of the 11th century Sandstone San Antonio Museum of Art, purchased with the John and Karen McFarlin Fund and Asian Art Challenge Fund 90.92

 

For Diamond, the purpose of this yoga exhibition was about the balancing wonder — by working in an art museum, curating a subject that has never been taught before to hook spectators into a yogi realm — and resonance, which articulates what we could learn from the sculptures, paintings, manuscripts, and architectural sights. The visual cultures included draw from its’ Indian origins to shed life on Yoga’s developing journey across centuries.I really appreciated her sarcastic innuendos about branding this exhibits image for publicity and how stressful it was to choose the RIGHT image to draw spectators interest. She mocks the obstacles she had to go through working with many donors, other exhibitions and their curators, as well as neutralizing her team of various scholarly professionals. Her relaxed disposition and blunt mannerism, during the Q+A portion of the lecture, had me wondering…(1) was she, herself, a serious yogi practitioner? (2) An American who dabbles in the mainstream of yoga? Or, (3) just an art historian whose interest lies in Indian and Contemporary Asian art using Yoga as a source for her exhibit’s thematic purpose?

What I really appreciate about Diamond’s lecture was not just her ability to walk us through the process of developing and curating this exhibition but also her acknowledgement of how the yoga culture has entered into the spirit of American lifestyle. In order to do so, the curator placed emphasis on the history of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, to which the rudiments of modern yoga was set. The reasoning behind this was the fact that yoga is often described as a “timeless ancient practice.” However, in order to counter that argument, Diamond wanted to expose to her Western audience, those who had the agencies and who changed the practices of yoga in relation to the metaphysics of their time; thus, we are able to trace the roots of yoga postures that has since become a universal language understood for the sake of health.

Yoga Practices
ABOVE: The Transmission of Teachings, folio 3 | BELOW: The Transmission of Teachings, folio 4

Historically, yoga first emerged in India around 2500 BCE with the goal to transcend suffering. At this time, Northern India was making a radical shift based on ritual sacrifices and other practices that would help priests reach heaven. Applicable to both men and women, yoga served individual beings to have power and control over their own “mind” and “body.” If harnessed correctly, one is then able to perceive reality by understanding what reality is; therefore, they can transcend the sorrowful cycle of pain and death that is an inevitable element we face everyday. For Americans, the Yoga Culture is a combination of holistic health, spiritual health, and overall health for the “socially acceptable” body image. It’s ironic though, because I find that Americans have exploited the yoga culture through economic means, making it a luxury commodity. Therefore, the goal in reaching enlightenment no longer becomes a “selfless” practice but rather an activity associated with “fitness.”

All over the world, millions of people have found benefits in finding his or her spiritual calm and are aware of its origins in India. However, Diamond recognized how very few people know about yoga’s rich visual history because this type of art was not considered a “high art” to be placed in art historical context. For the majority of Americans and Westerners, the twenty-first century was when the yoga culture entered the mainstream. Upon its induction, we see a shift in our culture of embracing yoga on a deeper level; even the Pentagon supports and sponsors the “practices of Yoga” and it has even been an accepted form of therapy registered by Medicare. I cannot help but wonder whether Yoga could be the answer to the many tumultuous historical events that have brought upon a great deal of disorderly disarray within twentieth century’s Visual arts discourse?

This is how the curator was able to exhibit the structuredimperatives of the complicated history of Yoga. She designed the path of her exhibit in six stages: the introductory room, the path of yoga room, Yogis in the Indian Imagination, Yogis in the Transnational Imagination (primary focus in the 17th-18th-and 19th centuries), modern transformations, and lastly a room for reference that would occasionally host yoga classes. The combination of the mixed media format and catalogued guide, are used for display to help develop the path of yoga traditions and objects or deities that suggest the involvement of the imagination.


 

Dr. Diamond received her PhD in South Asian art history from Columbia University (2000) and has published numerous articles on Indian and contemporary Asian art. A specialist in Indian court painting, she curated Garden and Cosmos: Royal Painting of Jodhpur (2008). She has curated numerous other exhibitions, including Facing East: Portraits from Asia (2006), Perspectives: Simryn Gill (2006), and Autofocus: Raghubir Singh’s Way into India (2003). She is currently planning an exhibition on the Freer Gallery’s portrait of Mumtaz Mahal (2014). In 2010, Dr. Diamond received the Smithsonian Secretary’s Research Prize for the Gardens and Cosmos: Royal Painting of Jodhpur exhibition catalogue.

Following its Washington, D.C., debut, “The Art of Transformation” will travel to the San Francisco Asian Art Museum (Feb. 21–May 25, 2014) and the Cleveland Museum of Art (June 22–Sep. 7, 2014).

 

 

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Getting Intimate With Chuck Close

Watch Chuck Close LITERALLY get up close and personal with 20 Hollywood Stars we’ve grown to admire over the years. Be it their acting, humor, or philanthropic efforts, Chuck Close finds odd and unusual ways to capture this group of visionaries in the 2014 Vanity Fair Portfolio. As a fan of the minimal lifestyle, I admire his decision to shoot with a Polaroid Camera because “he doesn’t want to steal anyones image.” His approach asserts a humble notion and is part of the reason why I have chosen him as the subject of my research paper for my ‘Contemporary Visual Arts’ Class. Stay tuned…

Close’s ground rules for his famous subjects—who all posed on a little stool directly in front of the massive bellows of the camera—were specific and non-negotiable:

  1. Arrive alone or with one close friend or associate.
  2. Be available for three hours.
  3. Be responsible for your own look—no professional styling or hair or makeup.
  4. Be content with coffee and deli sandwiches or salads—nothing fancy will be served.
  5. Get to the studio under your own steam.

Watch this collaborative feature rid ‘Vanity’ and embrace the natural:

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