The Unity of the Buddha from the Past, Present and Future
The Unity of the Buddha From the Past, Present and Future
Our exhibit will focus on representations, dealings, and the essence of the Buddha throughout various East Asian cultures. We have decided not to limit ourselves by choosing one time period, but instead focusing on the consistent timeline of Buddhist art throughout history. Our earliest piece comes from the late 600’s, in the Asuka period of Japan, and our most recent piece is a from the 1870’s, the Meiji period. The final exhibit will not be based on a secular timeline, but instead will be divided into 3 sections- the past, present, and future, respective to the connotations of each piece of art.
We have learned from James Clifford that religious objects lose their “power or mystery” qualities that it once possessed in museums, He explains this by stating “By virtue of this system a world of value is created and a meaningful deployment and circulation of artifacts maintained” (Clifford 220). In our exhibition, we plan to show every patron what “awakened one” means to different people in different places at different times, and relate it back to what we have all learned throughout the year in our class. We plan to do this by laying out our objects on an X versus Y plane in our exhibit. The X-axis will represent our objects of the Buddha in a secular chronological order, while the Y-axis will represent the Buddha in a non secular chronological order. In the middle of the exhibit will be separate blocks, one representing the past, another the present, and another the future (in that order on the Y-axis). On the past block, we will have Buddhas that represent the past no matter the time period they were made in, on the present, we will have Buddhas representing the divine figure in the present, and on the Future block we will have Buddha’s representing the Future no matter the time period they were made in. On each block, the artwork will travel chronologically in the same direction as the X-axis. So while some artworks are placed in the present block, it does not mean that they were just created, it means that when they were created, they were created to represent the Buddha in the present. We believe that in this way we are clearly describing the ways the Buddha and all his powers were represented throughout the centuries.
In its original language Sanskrit, Buddha literally means “awakened one”. Contrary to what Clifford says, a unique identity separate from the identity of the art, is the goal for the exhibition. Our identity will drive the layout of the collection, instead of the collection driving our identity. We believe that using our identity to build the collection will allow the viewer to do more than just look at the many depictions of Buddha, but instead immerse themselves in it. The goal is not simply to learn something new, but experience something foreign due to a deeper comprehension of various cultural definitions of the ‘awakened one”. The value of our exhibit will be from the visitors deeper understanding of the concept of the buddha throughout time. Walking through the three different blocks (past, present and future) that naturally leading you to our final masterpiece is something that can change the way you interpret the Buddha. The walls will be positioned as such to create a sort of “funnel” for the viewers. This will ensure that the value created by the order of our objects remains the same.
The pieces in our collection at this museum exhibit are similar for one reason only- they depict a Buddha. Some are crafted out of clay, some of bronze, and some are painted on scrolls. However, there are two key difference to our pieces: The pieces of art are from different time periods, and most of them represent the divine figure in different time frames (in the past, present, and future). The time period which they are from have many different styles in doing so, and in that difference is beauty that we wish to show our viewers. There is no right nor wrong way to represent a figure as holy as the Buddha, and every viewer of our exhibit, young or old, educated or not, will hopefully walk away from this with a newfound appreciation and understanding of how the Buddha was revered in different cultures in Asia and Southeast Asia throughout history. As stated earlier, the final exhibit will not be organized on a chronological timeline (like the way the paragraphs in this paper are organized below), but instead will have 3 sections; the past, present, and future. Below, these pieces are presented in a linear fashion for ease of understanding, but this order will not remain constant with the final show.
The time frame of our exhibit stretches from the Japanese Nara Period to the Nanbokucho period as well as the Korean Sillo dynasty. The first period we will focus on will be the Nara period in Japan. The Nara period took place from the years 600 through 710. A popular style during this period is known as hollow dry-lacquer, or dakkatsu kanishtsu which orginated from China (Mason). This technique created a sculpture by layering it with multiple hero cloths soaked in lacquer. This allowed sculptures to not only be durable but also light enough to allow transportation of these objects to not be a hassle compared to the previous medium that Japanese artists used such as bronze or solid wood. Objects from this period in our exhibit include “A Preaching Buddha” and the” Medicine Buddha”. “A Preaching Buddha” stands at 24 x 13.6 cm. Made in 710, it is a preaching buddha who is completely made of bronze and is currently found at the Cleveland Museum of Art (Cleveland Museum of Art). “Medicine Buddha” stands at 36 centimeters high and is currently found at the Boston Museum of Art. It is believed that it was possibly taken to Japan from Korea (Boston Museum of Art).
As time progressed, specifically during the Late Heian Period, the spread of Buddhism increased due to two Japanese schools of Esoteric Buddhism, the Tendai school and the Shingon school. As the religion culminated around eastern Asia and Japan, a new artist technique was created which is known as the joined-block construction technique which allowed a more realistic and dramatic carving of the Buddha compared to the single block construction that was previously used. This also allowed for equally proportional sculptures to be formed to push towards a more realistic figure. Objects from this period in our exhibit include “Male and Female Shinto Deities” and “Medicine Master Buddha”. The “Male and Female Shinto Deities” is a sculpture made from a Japanese Cypress with traces of color. Standing at 52 centimeters, it is found at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, New York (Metropolitan Museum of Art). The “Medicine Master Buddha is a sculpture made of the Buddha sitting on a pedestal carved out of Gilded wood. It stands at a total of 145 centimeters and is currently located at the Cleveland Museum of Art in Cleveland, Ohio (Cleveland Museum of Art).
Our next period that our exhibit includes is the Kamakura era. This era, according to our textbook, was a period when Japan was repairing the damages from the previous period and had a cultural revival. The Minamoto family established themselves at the center of power and implemented hierarchy where the emperor came first, and the merchants and artisans were last amongst the social class. This cultural revival also included the mass creation of the buddhist sculptures which our exhibit portrays. This era’s artistic style was heavily influenced by the Kei school of sculptures. The Kei school was the main driver behind the restoring and replacing of Buddhist works around Japan. Works produced by this school are characterized by their realism and great attention to detail. Much of the work created in this period is wood, or lacquered wood with a gold leaf overlay. These sculptures come in a variety of sizes, and generally relate to the Buddhist faith. Buddhist sculptures began to exhibit new realistic elements. One example of this tendency was the newly invented gyokugan (jewel eyes) technique of inlaying crystals to give the appearance of eyeballs. Objects from this period in our exhibit include “Jizo, the Bodhisattva of the Earth Matrix”, “Miroku Bosatsu: The Future Buddha” and “Welcoming Descent of Amida and Bodhisattvas”. The “Jizo, the Bodhisattva of the Earth Matrix” is a bodhisattva. This is divine being with a great spirit and will who postpones his own buddhahood in order to others on the same path achieve enlightenment. Standing at 84 centimeters, he is made of Wood with polychrome, lacquer, and gold. The lessons taught by the Kei school are shown through this sculpture. The pristine workmanship and attention to detail of the sculpture are ideas that were associated with the Kei school of sculptors active during the Kamakura period. It is currently found at the Minneapolis Institute of Art in Minneapolis, Minnesota (Minneapolis Institute of Art).The “Miroku Bosatsu: The Future Buddha” stands at 64 centimeters. Made somewhere around 1185-1333, it is a preaching buddha made up of wood with traces of lacquer, polychromy, and cut gold leaf. It is currently found at the Cleveland Museum of Art in Cleveland, Ohio (Cleveland Museum of Art). The “Welcoming Descent of Amida and Bodhisattvas” is a hanging scroll made from ink, color, and gold on silk. Although the artist is unknown, this painting, and many others were popular in Japan for the representation of the pure Land belief in salvation through faith it showed. Paintings like this one were also religious furnishings that decorated the deceased at the time of their death. Hanging at 65 inches, scrolls like these were often hung around the bed of the person who was dying to ensure their rebirth in paradise. The reason these paintings were so popular was because when the dead were put to rest, their heads usually laid to the north and their faces turned west. Paintings like this one show the Buddhas coming from the upper left corner and down towards the lower right corner so they would look over the face of the person who was dead or dying. This was so once they died they could be greated by the Buddhas and have an easier ascendance to the world of enlightenment. This scroll is currently found at the Metropolitan Museum of art in New York City, New York (Metropolitan Museum of Art).
The final period we plan to include in our exhibit is the Muromachi period. This is the period in Japan that came after the Kamakura period came to an end in 1333. Running from 1336 to 1573, the Ashikaga family ran the country of Japan during this period. They gave themselves a position of power and left the emperor alive as a respectable, but powerless, figure. The one work of art that we plan to include from this time period is the Amida Nyorai (Amitabha Buddha). Made somewhere in the Muromachi period time frame, it stands at 279 centimeters. Carved from gilded wood and lacquer, it is currently found at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art).
Throughout the ages, the ways in which the Buddha has been represented has evolved immensely, however, the message which the Buddha is supposed to convey has not. In Japan, Buddha means “Enlightened One”. Throughout the history of art, specifically art in Southeast asia (as is the focus of this exhibition), three styles of Buddhist art prevailed- those of the Past, the Present, and the Future. In our final exhibit, that is how our pieces will be organized. We believe that these 15 pieces of artwork share a greater connection than the one that can be displayed on a linear timeline. Instead, a viewer of our exhibit will be taken through a pathway that displays how these pieces of art were meant to be viewed, that is chronologically on a much larger scale. First the past, then the present, and finally to the future.