Currently on in Adelaide is SALA, an annual art festival dedicated to local artists whose work is on display in numerous venues, including in office spaces, throughout the CBD. Complementing this wonderful festival are special exhibitions in the respective art galleries and museums in Adelaide. In honour and respect for all this the following is the first in a series highlighting artwork that is on currently on display in Adelaide, beginning with some selected work in the marvelous Asian Collection at the South Australian Art Gallery. The descriptions of the respective selected works are for the most part taken from those that accompany these pieces in the gallery.
1. Vaishravana, Heavenly King of the North – CHINA – 16th Century
Vaishravana is one of the four Heavenly Kings who are the guardians of the Universe. He rules from the cosmic mountain of Menu with his forest ogres (yaksha) and protects all Buddhist teachings. In this wooden and lacquered statue dating from the 16th Century he is dressed as a Chinese military general. His mouth is closed due to the deadly poison of his breath.
2. Disciple of Guatama Buddha – CHINA – 16th Century
This is a representative of one of Buddha’s sixteen disciples, although his exact identity is unknown. Buddha’s disciples are known as the arhat – one of whom the 18th Century Chinese Qianlong Emperor described as –
Quietly cultivating the mind / With a countenance calm and composed, / Serene and dignified.
3. Ten armed Avalokiteshvara [Guan Yin] – CHINA – 16th Century
Avalokiteshvara is the compassionate Goddess of Mercy. She is a bodhisattva, who is an enlightened being destined to become buddhas but postpones ascension, remaining with humanity in order to assist those in need, and the endless cycle of rebirth. The multiple hands, which once contained objects, are to reach out to those who are suffering from destructive respective emotions and states, such as anger, desire, greed, and ignorance.
4. Avalokiteshvara [Guan Yin] – CHINA – 17th Century
In China Avalokiteshvara is known as Guan Yin – ‘the one who hears all prayers’. She is a central figure in Chinese Buddhist art and culture. In this bronze statue she holds a religious text in her left hand, whilst in her right hand she holds a lotus that contains a gem which grants wishes.
5. Pair of temple guardians [nio] – JAPAN – 17-18th Century
These two formidable and stylised characters once stood at the entrance of a Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan. They represent the Indian Hindu gods of Vishnu and Indra who became guardian deities in Buddhism. Their exaggerated features are deliberate, with the intention of frightening off evil spirits and thieves with their bug-eyes, big muscles and red skin. Their respective postures relate to mainland Asian martial arts. The figures are made of cypress blocks. Cypress was favoured for such exterior statues because of its hardiness in hot and cold weather, as well as its fragrant smell.
6. ‘White’ Tara – TIBET – mid-18th Century
Tara in Tibetan Buddhism is a bodhisattva and is also known as Jetsun Dolma. She is the ‘mother of liberation’ and is a figure of tantric meditation in the search for inner (and outer) understanding of ‘compassion’ and ’emptiness’, as well as bringing good health and long life. The White Tara is a figure of great beauty due to her vow to always work for the benefit of others. She is ‘white’ because of her skin colour, which on this statue has darkened with time. Across her lap she has a white scarf, She has a white scarf, known as a khata, complementing customary devotional practice and offerings.
7. Prince Siddhartha, the Buddha-to-be as a child – BURMA – 19th Century
When Prince Siddhartha, the Buddha-to-be and destined for greatness as either a world leader and/or great teacher, was born and he stood up he took seven steps in four directions. With each step a lotus flower bloomed beneath his feet. At that moment he declared – Supreme I am in the whole world / This is my last birth / There is no more. He became an inspirational figure for subsequent Burmese military aspirations and actions.
8. Fasting Siddhartha – THAILAND – C. 1900
When Prince Siddhartha gave up earthly pleasures and pursuits he initially sort enlightenment through fasting. This eventually led him to eating only one grain of rice per day. This somewhat realistic and frightening bronze and gold lacquered statue depicts Siddhartha as an emaciated ascetic who almost died from self-inflicted starvation. At this point he realised that neither excessive self-mortification or self-indulgence opens to the door to Truth. He then rose and journeyed to Bodhgaya where he found ‘Enlightenment’ whilst meditating under a banyan tree, becoming the Guatama Buddha.
9. Two-paneled Screen – Guatama Buddha and disciples – JAPAN – c. 1900
Despite its religious and Buddhist content this two-paneled screen was designed for by Japanese artists for ‘Western’ consumption, complementing the then fad for ‘Eastern’ orientalism in England, Europe and the USA. The panel on the left shows the Guatama Buddha with the bodhisattva Samantabhadra riding an elephant (left) and the bodhisattva Manhusri on a lion (right). The panel on the right shows a group of disciples (aka arhat).
10. The great Indian adept Liyupa – TIBET – mid-18th Century / Dharmaraja Yama with consort – BHUTAN – 20th Century
These two rather painted cotton brocades depict two religious characters with rather colourful and eccentric and bizarre habits and customs. In Tibetan Buddhism medieval yogis such Liyupa were sources of inspiration. In the 18th Century brocade on the left Liyupa is seen eating raw fish guts discarded by fishermen. The 20th Century brocade on the right shows Dharmaraja, the ‘Lord of Teachings’, in a wrathful embodiment of wisdom. Dharmaraja Yama ’embraces his zombie court who offer him a skull cup full of blood. They ride a crazed buffalo, trampling on a naked body in a cemetery where carrion animals feed on discarded corpses, and three skull cups overflow with unmentionable offerings’.
There are a great deal more wonderful pieces of artwork from Asia in this section of the South Australian Art Gallery. Hopefully this small selection will encourage you to visit the gallery and indulge it is many wonders.