Joyful and sensual sculptural figures of Indian deities and dancers join radiant images of enlightened beings from Tibet and Nepal in Deities, Demons, and Teachers, which presents a rotating display of works by anonymous Indian, Nepalese, and Tibetan artisans. A tenth-century sandstone figure of Ganesha, the elephant-headed deity worshipped by Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists, graces the entrance to the exhibition, a site appropriate to Ganesha’s role in removing obstacles and blessing any new endeavor. Whether viewed as a cosmic dancer or a cavorting adolescent, this image of Ganesha is confirmation of the wonder and delight to be found in the sculpture and painting of these ancient cultures.
Hindus and Buddhists both revere and celebrate female deities and often depict goddesses in idealized form with exaggerated marks of beauty. In Dancing Devi, a twelfth-century buff-sandstone sculpture from central India, the beauty of the bejeweled and crowned figure is accentuated by the larger-than-life proportions of breasts and buttocks. A more reserved but no less beautifully idealized feminine form is seen in Tara, a seventeenth-century Nepalese bronze, where the figure is surrounded by a fanciful garden of birds, musicians, and garlands.
Very early images of the Buddha are rare, so it is quite exceptional that in addition to the massive bronze fourteenth-century Tibetan Buddha in the center of the gallery, this exhibition also features a stone image of a third-century seated Buddha from the Swat Valley and a tenth- or eleventh-century bronze Standing Buddha from Western Tibet. An array of bodhisattvas and attendant deities from these regions, including a painting of the Thirteenth Karmapa (at left), believed to be a reincarnation of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, fill out the gathered celestial realm of the Buddhist cosmology.
Deities, Demons, and Teachers is organized by Senior Curator for Asian Art Julia M. White.