All posts in “Buddhism”

Gardner Center goes down the Silk Roads of History

What is it about Silk Roads history and art that interests so many people? In the late 19th century, German geographer Ferdinand von Richthofen coined the term ‘Silk Road’ or ‘Silk Routes’ as part of his map-making efforts. After all, better maps of travel routes had commercial value for access to coal or building railroads, for instance. In the early 20th century, several spectacular “discoveries” (ie, new to the West) of magnificent troves of art and manuscripts in Central Asia and western China fueled the fascination.

Courtesy of the Dunhuang Academy, photo: Wu Jian. 

Now the plural ‘Silk Roads’ is used to better describe the many complex historic trade routes through the Eurasian continent. The idea of commercial exchange across a continent that involved interactions of many cultures, languages, religions, and arts can be such an appealing picture of cosmopolitan societies—in contrast to present-day tensions at home and abroad. “Silk Road nostalgia” refers to interpreting this history in the imagination as a time of tolerance and international understanding as well as prosperity, rooted in hope for peaceful and respectful global exchange in future.

The Jewel of Muscat, a reconstructed replica of a ninth century Omani trading ship, sails into the harbour of Galle, 116 km (72 miles) south of the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, on April 19, 2010. The ship, built in a traditional design without nails and sewn together with coconut fibers, left Oman on February 15 to re-enact the old trade routes used by Arab traders, with its final port of call in Singapore, according to the organizers of the voyage. AFP PHOTO/ Lakruwan WANNIARACHCHI. (Photo credit should read LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI/AFP/Getty Images)

The fall Saturday University Lecture Series, Silk Roads Past and Present: From Ancient Afghan Treasure to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, presents current understandings in seven lectures. Beginning with a talk on the Begram Hoard excavated in Afghanistan, we consider how these storerooms from the first century CE could contain Roman glass, Chinese lacquer, and extraordinarily carved ivories from India. A talk on Maritime Silk Roads explores the shipping that actually transported more goods than overland routes, despite the persistent image of camel caravans.

Bodhisattva leading a lady to the Pure Land (detail), Chinese, Tang dynasty, c. 851–900 CE, Hanging scroll, Ink and colors on silk, Height: 80.5 centimetres, Width: 53.8 centimetres, ©️Trustees of the British Museum. 

The Silk Roads also saw the spread of Buddhism, and two speakers explore Buddhist art in China. Two lesser-known religions are introduced in a talk on Zoroastrian and Manichaean arts. And what about silk? Find out about silk and fashion in Tang Dynasty China, as trade made new textile technologies, colors, and patterns available.  The series concludes with a talk on China’s current international initiative also referred to as the New Silk Road. Please join us!

– Sarah Loudon, Director, Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas

Image: Mogao Cave 237. Image courtesy of the Dunhuang Academy, photo: Zhang Weiwen. 
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The Art of Ikebana

The art of Ikebana, creating forms with cut branches and flowers, traces it origins back to the 8th century when monks began placing flower offerings on the Buddhist shrines. In order to understand the essence or soul of the art, however, it is helpful to go back much further to its ancient roots in the Shinto tradition. It is stated in the early verses of the Nihongi, “The Chronicles of Japan,” that everything has its own voice. The mountains, the waters, the plants, the teapot, everything speaks to us. People who practice Ikebana become continually aware that the many different plants have many different voices. Listening carefully to what they say is the key. Becoming intimate with nature in this way, one grows ever more appreciative of life’s precious moments, which in turn provides focus along with a sense of rest and tranquility.

Perhaps this helps explain how, in the 16th century, the art evolved from a strictly monastic practice into a samurai warrior discipline. Doing Ikebana before battle provided warriors sharp focus, and Ikebana afterwards allowed them to express gratitude for another day of life. And now in modern times, Ikebana is practiced by people from every culture around the world. Along with creating beautiful forms, one experiences presence in the moment along with a sense of peace in one’s own heart.

Ikebana differs radically from western floral design in that rather than gathering a multitude of flowers into one space and having them speak in a chorus, Ikebana strives to provide each element with a solo appearance highlighting its own unique voice. The idea is to provide a conversation among the various materials used in the design. As with any good conversation, the key word is space. Ikebana is essentially an art of space. Space in which to listen, space in which to speak. When you view an Ikebana piece and you feel drawn in, then the designer has been successful and the work can be considered good Ikebana.

Evolving from its traditional classical forms, Ikebana in the early 20th century underwent a similar transformation as did western art. Rather than trying to imitate nature, artists began creating out of their own personal impressions of what they saw simply with their eyes. This has led to abstract expressionism in the art of Ikebana as well. The spirit, the soul of Ikebana, is sometimes referred to as a flowing river whose waters cannot be stopped. It will continue to engender new forms on into the distant future. And this is at it should be.

Seattle’s Chapter 19 of Ikebana International, a worldwide organization of Ikebana teachers and students, will hold its 59th annual exhibit downtown in the University street entrance of Seattle Art Museum on the weekend of  May 26 and 27. View works from Ikebana’s classical periods as well as its modern abstract expressions along with demonstrations at 1 pm on both days.

– Charles Coghlan, Hana Design Ikebana Instructor

Images: Nina Dubinsky
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Madeleine on camel outside Seattle Asian Art Museum on June 23rd during Mandala Demonstration

A SAM Intern’s First Visit to the Seattle Asian Art Museum

Monks from Gaden Shartse Monastery in Fuller Room of Seattle Asian Art Museum for Mandala Demonstration

Within the Fuller room, visiting monks from the Gaden Shartse monastery were creating a mandala and will do so over the next few days. Mandalas are a Buddhist form of sacred art that carry spiritual significance. They are made by layering colored sands in an intricate design which usually relates to the dwelling of a diety. The monks vigorously run one chakpur (a bronze funnel that holds colored sand) over the ridges of another chakpur in order to direct the sand into the design.

Gaden Shartse monk making mandala as part of Seattle Asian Art Museum and Dechenling collaboration

Monk prepping chakpur for mandala making.

Once the design is complete, the monks will sweep the sand into a container which will be placed in moving  water such as a river or ocean. So four days of concentrated, intricate work gone in about thirty minutes. Quite a reminder of beauty and its impermanence.

Gaden Shartse monks using chakpurs and colored sands to make a mandala at Seattle Asian Art Museum in collaboration with Dechenling

Continuing through the museum, I repeatedly viewed objects made of nephrite. Upon later research, I learned that nephrite is one of two kinds of jade and usually comes in shades of green, grey, and brown with varying degrees of translucence. My favorite object was a dragon and tiger plaque, made of nephrite in the Ming period (1368-1644). It’s a decorative object, and it made me think about how there was a time that anything functional was expected to be beautiful, that functionality and beauty are not mutually exclusive.

Dragon and tiger nephrite plaque from Ming period at Seattle Asian Art Museum.

Dragon and tiger nephrite plaque.

The displays of ceramics, sculptures, and scrolls were lovely and accessible. The labels gave clarity to the objects they described but still left me with room to interpret and understand the works on my own. I most appreciated this when admiring a woman’s robe from China, ca. 1875-1908. The label mentioned that garments in this era were seen as descriptors of one’s true nature as well as indicative of socioeconomic status. I found this idea inspiring and refreshing as much of what I’ve studied with fashion discusses garments as an act of display of wealth or a purposeful effort to control how others’ interpret us, not necessarily as an indication of our nature.

Chinese, woman's robe from 1875-1908 at Seattle Asian Art Museum.

Woman’s robe.

I definitely enjoyed my time at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. It’s a manageable museum with space that facilitates easy movement from exhibition to exhibition and that contains a diverse range of work characterized by unique perspectives. I enjoyed something in each exhibition: plaques, robes, kimonos, prints, ceramics, and contemporary prints juxtaposed with sculptures and paintings. I plan on going back there and taking some people I know that will likely enjoy it as well.

Front entrance of Seattle Asian Art Museum with camels and art deco doors.

Seattle Asian Art Museum

 

 

Top photo: First camel ride ever.
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Buddhism and Human Rights–Is This a Conflict?

We have heard more details recently about the ongoing war in isolated Burma [Myanmar]–especially this week in Seattle. Human rights reporter Mac McClelland was here, talking about her experiences living in Thailand by the Burmese border, an area swollen with refugee camps. She lived with Burmese dissidents, members of one of the ethnic groups targeted by Burmese government genocide, who risk their lives regularly by secretly crossing into Burma to document atrocities of the government’s ethnic-cleansing campaign.

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