Exhibitions

Living Traditions in Indian Art [Jan 2010 – Jan 2013]

living traditionIndia is a vast country: a subcontinent. India is also one of the ancient civilizations of the world. The antiquity of its civilization is matched by the vastness of its geographical extent. Both of these have contributed to the rich and multiple art forms of India. This diversity is aptly illustrated by the artworks chosen for display in the collection of the Museum of Sacred Art. We know that stories associated with Shri Krishna arise, among other sources, from the Mahabharata, the Harivamsa, the Bhagavata Purana, and the Vishnu Purana.The narratives in each of these, place Lord Krishna in various perspectives: a God-child, a prankster, a model lover, a divine hero, and the Supreme Being. The Museum exhibits works of art with these themes, from Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, and Rajasthan as well as from Indonesia, Nepal, Tibet, and Thailand.Though these pieces are drawn from different regions, and indeed from different countries, they have a strong commonality threading through their diversity. The Mithila paintings from east India, the Tanjore paintings from the town of Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu, the pichhavais from Rajasthan, the rod puppets from Indonesia, and the many other works in the museum capture the beauty and the philosophy of Shri Krishna’s timeless message of love and karma (duty) as embodied in the Bhagavad-gita (“The Song Celestial”). I am very happy to see that Radhadesh has established a collection at the Museum of Sacred Art to facilitate a glimpse into this sacred art influenced by Hinduism. It is hoped that visitors will come to the museum from all over Europe and from various walks of life, and see the beautiful works on display here. This will give them an opportunity to appreciate these works of religious and sacred art, and to understand the plurality and diversity which have contributed to their beauty. Dr. J. Bhagwati Ambassador of India to Belgium, Luxembourg and the EU
As an Indologist and museum curator, I am extremely glad that a museum dedicated to present-day spiritual art has been set up in Durbuy. This catalogue gives a lovely overview of the collection in the Museum of Sacred Art. India has a unique ancient tradition of depicting the divine, which has over the centuries produced an enormous amount of inspired art, with stylistic variations. Bulls, fertility-figurines, lingams, and yaksha (forest spirits) are early, well-known expressions of the great forces of nature. In the classical period beautiful sculptures represented aspects of the universal soul in the shape of anthropomorphic deities. In medieval times miniature paintings reflected an invisible divine presence in another way. A rich tradition of tribal and folk art depict stories of heroes, gods, and demons. All these forms of Indian art are lively and colourful. They have been used for veneration of deities, and reflect great devotion. It is clear that Indian art has a divine abstract dimension as well as a direct human one. India has greatly influenced my life—born to Belgian parents living in India, I grew up in Mumbai. I was raised with an open mind and an attitude of respect and tolerance for all religions. Back in Catholic Flanders the approach was somewhat different. The form in which spirituality pervaded the air in India, I discovered, was difficult to find here. But what struck me most was the lack of knowledge about one of the world’s most ancient and richest cultures. Thus I decided to study Indian languages, art and religion, and have been teaching and promoting it in Belgium. Although museums collect, study, and exhibit ancient art, contemporary art is mostly exhibited only in galleries. Present-day traditional art rarely gets attention outside the country of its origin. But museums are in transition. As much as the objects, they also focus on visitors now.Visitors are not only charmed by the aesthetic value of a piece of art, but they also want to know more about the artist, and the object’s utility and relevance. Whilst working at Antwerp’s Ethnographic Museum, I realised that specialists appreciate the high quality of the Asian collection, but the general public are more attracted to ritual and devotional art. Mythical stories like the Ocean’s Churning, Krishna and the Gopis, or Rama and Sita, while typically Hindu, are appealing to Westerners because of their wisdom and adventure. The emotional dimension of religion—an important source for devotional artists—comes through in the themes of these stories: heroes and saints, the origin and the end of the world, good and evil. These fables are sometimes historical, sometimes doubtful but always sublimating worldly life. The Vaishnava paintings, Indonesian puppets, and Tibetan ritual objects in the catalogue have been used to transmit important stories down the generations. Throughout the ages, thousands of artists have been inspired by the great Indian myths, but their identity is rarely known.Today, when Indian art is travelling beyond the borders of India, museums have an important role in guarding these traditions and honouring the artists who should no longer remain anonymous. I sincerely hope that along with watching India’s economic expansion, people worldwide will also become more aware of its great traditions in art and culture.This museum and catalogue are undoubtedly valuable contributions in that view. May they inspire many others. Christiane De Lauwer Curator (South Asia), MAS / Ethnographic Museum Antwerp
krishnaIndia is a vast country: a subcontinent. India is also one of the ancient civilizations of the world. The antiquity of its civilization is matched by the vastness of its geographical extent. Both of these have contributed to the rich and multiple art forms of India. This diversity is aptly illustrated by the artworks chosen for display in the collection of the Museum of Sacred Art. We know that stories associated with Shri Krishna arise, among other sources, from the Mahabharata, the Harivamsa, the Bhagavata Purana, and the Vishnu Purana.The narratives in each of these, place Lord Krishna in various perspectives: a God-child, a prankster, a model lover, a divine hero, and the Supreme Being. The Museum exhibits works of art with these themes, from Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, and Rajasthan as well as from Indonesia, Nepal, Tibet, and Thailand.Though these pieces are drawn from different regions, and indeed from different countries, they have a strong commonality threading through their diversity. The Mithila paintings from east India, the Tanjore paintings from the town of Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu, the pichhavais from Rajasthan, the rod puppets from Indonesia, and the many other works in the museum capture the beauty and the philosophy of Shri Krishna’s timeless message of love and karma (duty) as embodied in the Bhagavad-gita (“The Song Celestial”). I am very happy to see that Radhadesh has established a collection at the Museum of Sacred Art to facilitate a glimpse into this sacred art influenced by Hinduism. It is hoped that visitors will come to the museum from all over Europe and from various walks of life, and see the beautiful works on display here. This will give them an opportunity to appreciate these works of religious and sacred art, and to understand the plurality and diversity which have contributed to their beauty. Dr. J. Bhagwati Ambassador of India to Belgium, Luxembourg and the EU
The days when sacred images played a central role in Western art seem like a distant memory, but there are signs of a revival of interest in spiritual art among the academic community, art lovers and the general public. There are various reasons for this revival. One important element is globalisation, which has made possible a greater exposure to other cultures and their traditions. There is also the natural human desire for experiences that uplift the heart and inspire an awareness of a higher reality. In India the genre of spiritual art has remained alive and flourishing. Moreover, Indian culture has never been fully separate from spirituality, and so Indian art is neither religious nor secular.Throughout the centuries, the subcontinent’s artists have produced a remarkable array of devotional art for education, meditation, and worship. To this day, the traditional art forms produced in India do not pursue beauty simply for its own sake, but utilize it as a means to awaken religious feeling and guide the viewer on the spiritual path. Thus the purpose of spiritual art is to provide an intimate experience of divinity. Rather than seeking to seduce the eye, traditional artists direct their creative impulses into beautiful pieces that express a personal experience of divinity. While living art traditions have sometimes become commercial enterprises, making souvenirs for both tourists and pilgrims, there are still many talented and dedicated artists who, with integrity, expertise, and passion, maintain the purity of their traditions. The development of a ‘museum of sacred art’ in Radhadesh was inspired by the many original art pieces already on display in the Château de Petite Somme. These paintings, although expressing themes described in ancient Vaishnava texts, were painted in the style of classical realism. The idea of the museum was to create a dedicated space where visitors could experience and learn the cultural roots of Vaishnava art and its connection to the broader world of Hindu philosophy. As the project developed, however, it became clear that there was a broader mission that could be served with the creation of the museum. Spiritual art has a specialplace in the life of the subcontinent, but there are also many pressures deriving from the fast-paced modernisation of Indian society. A number of traditional Indian art styles are presently under threat, not only from lack of funding, but also due to the dwindling numbers of up-and-coming practitioners. Therefore, one of the museum’s purposes is to help support traditional Indian artists. By giving these artists more exposure in the West, it intends to encourage them to continue their work, and inspire them to train the next generation of artists. The realization of the project’s first stage has been wonderfully swift. Although I hadbeen envisaging such a museum for several years, my colleagues and I could only start to research in 2007 and collect pieces in earnest. Since then the project has blossomed, with a substantial collection of art, and the creation of a dedicated gallery within the temple premises. The curation of works exhitbited in the museum has necessitated several trips to India. Meeting artists and finding good representative pieces have been both challenging and rewarding. This initiative has confirmed that even today there are great artists completely devoted to their spiritual tradition. Visiting their simple studios and witnessing their humility has served as a great inspiration to us in creating this project, of presenting Indian devotional art to the West. In the museum’s collection there are many well-known, respected artists such as B.G. Sharma and Indra Sharma, Bharti Dayal, G.L.N Simha, Ramesh Sharma, Mukesh Sharma and Reva Shanker Sharma. There are also many emerging talented artists like Vrindaban Dasa and Tilkesh Sharma, and those who remain unknown, just like the traditional artists through the centuries. The main focus of the museum is on living art forms rather than historical pieces, even though it presents quite a broad selection of devotional traditions from India. There are some old miniatures from Rajasthan, but most of the pieces are from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The collection focuses on works by Indian artists and includes devotional paintings by ISKCON artists. A few works from Nepal, Tibet, Thailand and Indonesia are also a part of it. The curators felt that these would be a valuable addition to the collection, as they are representative of the spiritual and cultural connection that these places have had with India in the past. From Nepal and Tibet there are some exquisite metal icons, ceremonial artifacts and sacred objects that represent Hindu and Buddhist Newari art. Two panels of leather cut-outs depicting Rama and Sita, represent Thailand in the museum.The style reflects the traditional depiction of Rama and Sita in Ramakien, Thailand’s national epic, derived from the Indian Ramayana, which remains popular as performance drama even today. The museum’s main gallery is situated in one of the annexe buildings, with many works on display in the château as well. The museum’s collection consists of paintings, sculptures, puppets, and sacred objects used in worship. Besides the permanent collection, the museum is planning to organise temporary exhibitions across Europe. My personal inspiration in developing the museum at Radhadesh comes from the experience of growing up in an atmosphere permeated with art. My father, José Gurvich (1927-1974), who left Lithuania in 1932 to settle in Uruguay, is a renowned modern artist and a student of Joaquín Torres Garcia. This background has enabled me to see the similarities between Indian and Western artists—the desire to represent beauty and uplift the consciousness of human society. The setting for a museum of sacred art could not be better: a thriving spiritual The community in a beautiful nineteenth-century château near the historic town of Durbuy, in the Belgian Ardennes. The meeting of old and new in this historic setting creates a unique backdrop for developing a love of devotional art. Thousands of visitors from all over Europe come every year to visit Radhadesh. We hope to offer our visitors a glimpse of spirituality and culture, and an introduction to the rich spiritual art traditions of the Indian subcontinent. We sincerely wish that the visit to Museum of Sacred Art will embellish the experience of every visitor in connecting with the divine nature within themselves and the world around them. Martin Gurvich Director, Museum of Sacred Art
kolkataA trip to India, however brief, astonishes us with the everyday presence of art and religious expression. Even an urban stroll is likely to lead us to a roadside shrine like the one seen in fig. 1. This makeshift outdoor temple on a busy Kolkata street has grown organically around a banyan tree, sacred to several deities including Shiva. Popular prints of gods and goddesses contend with sculpted icons and ordinary rough stones that are also worshipped as forms of the deities. We know this shrine is tended daily, probably by a Brahmin priest, because fresh jasmine garlands adorn the divine images and somebody must be watering the tulasi (holy basil) shrub, representing Lord Vishnu’s consort Lakshmi, in the pot on the left. Nothing could be more natural than for a teenager passing the little outdoor temple on his way to take an exam or a clerk headed for a meeting with the boss to stop for a minute, bow his head, and ask for strength and support for the task at hand. The divine presence is a part of most people’s daily life, not something they encounter once a week in a special building set aside for the purpose. If the student does well in his exam or the employee gets a raise, he will gratefully return and offer something to the gods—perhaps a few coins for flowers or sweets, maybe something more substantial like a structural improvement to the street-side sanctuary. We find open-air tree shrines like the one in Kolkata all across India, in rural and small town settings, at crossroads, near springs and waterfalls. They are one reason we cannot so easily distinguish between high and popular culture, or even separate religions from each other (for these miniature temples may contain Buddhist, Jain, Christian, or even Muslim images, as well as local deities not included in the official pantheons). We conclude that presenting and encountering visual forms of the divine is a common occurrence in the subcontinent, without which the rhythms of ordinary life would lose their significance. This exhibition offers us a sampling of India’s regional traditions (and some from beyond its borders) with the aim of whetting the viewers’ appetite. The art enthusiast and the seeker of religious knowledge may then go on to see and experience more of South Asia’s treasures. Tryna Lyons
19OEB_LIVING_JPG_572021eThis book celebrates the presence of the divine even amidst the mundane and the material in our country. It showcases popular, devotional art in India and also metal icons, masks, sculptures, puppets, and ritual objects of divinities from this country as well as from Thailand, Nepal, Tibet, and Indonesia, as displayed in the Museum of Sacred Art, Radhadesh, Belgium.

REFRESHING

It is an effort to show “how contemporary artists continue to create visual representations of Hindu divinities in new and refreshing ways.” Radhadesh being “a spiritual community belonging to the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON),” it is only natural that a majority of the paintings in the book should be on Lord Krishna. A separate section is devoted to the art of the Hare Krishna movement which was also influenced by Italian art and Russian artists. The clarity of photographs, especially that of the beautiful old castle where the museum is housed, is such as to transport the reader to the museum. Also included are brief biographies of the artists. J. Bhagawati, Ambassador of India to Belgium, Luxembourg, and the EU, in his preface, mentions how the collection “reflects the rich multiple art forms of India.” In her foreword, Chistiane De Lauwer, Curator (South Asia), MAS/ Ethnographic Museum, Antwerp, says she was struck by the lack of knowledge in Belgium about one of the world's most ancient and rich cultures. So, she went on to study Indian art, language, and religion. The museum and catalogue grew out of the need to spread awareness on Indian spiritual art. Unlike in the West, the genre of spiritual art is still vibrant in India, says Martin Gurvich, Director, Museum of Sacred Art, in his introduction. The museum's focus is on living art forms rather than historical pieces, and so most of the pieces are from the 20th and 21st centuries. In her essay on the “Living Traditions in Indian Art: The Divine Image,” Tryna Lyons describes how spiritual art is found everywhere in the country and goes on to speak of the art and artists in various regions. Among the beautiful photographs featured from the museum collection are the ones of Lord Krishna with Radha, with gentle-eyed cows, with the gopis on the river bank. Gold-leaf worked paintings in the Tanjore style and Mysore style; the pichhavais (cloth hangings) from Nathadwara in Rajasthan; paintings on cotton and paper by artists such as B.G. Sharma and Indra Sharma; inlay work on wood from Karnataka; beautifully proportioned bronzes of Tamil Nadu; eye- catching Madhubani paintings from Bihar; and rod puppets from Indonesia also find a place. In all, a catalogue that compresses the essence of the museum exhibits and communicates the spirit of popular and contemporary Indian spiritual art to the West.
Review by Kausalya Santhanam
living traditionThis color-rich volume catalogues the collection of devotional art held in the Museum of Sacred Art located in the Belgian Ardennes.

Product Details

  • Number of pages: 284
  • Pdf size: 54 Mb
  • Publisher: Mapin Publishing Gp Pty Ltd; 2010 edition (November 16, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1935677012
  • ISBN-13: 978-1935677017
  • Product Dimensions: 1.1 x 9.6 x 11.3 inches
   
Share it on social networks: