SANTA BARBARA, CA - A large-scale and comprehensive exhibition of Indian art titled “Puja and Piety: Hindu, Jain and Buddhist Art of the Indian Subcontinent” opened at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (SBMA) here on April 16 and will be on display until August 28.An exhibition of this scale and scope of India’s sacred arts has...
The brainchild of Dr. Pratapaditya Pal, formerly senior curator of Indian and S.E. Asian art at LACMA, the Santa Barbara show differs in presenting the diversity and complexity of Indian art by examining the relationship between aesthetic expression and devotional practice (puja) in the three native religions of the Indian subcontinent. Drawn from SBMA’s collection and augmented by loans, from local private collectors, the exhibition presents about 160 objects of diverse media created over the past two millennia for temples, home worship, festivals, and roadside shrines.
Artistic objects displayed in museums and galleries are meant to facilitate a purely spectatorial enjoyment. Items of religious use having aesthetic value are also treated in this way. However, in their native context, these artifacts exist as part of a culture that is participatory and involves an exchange of religious emotion. Though an exhibition in a museum cannot provide this experience of religious participation, curatorial practice can highlight images and their paraphernalia, without losing sight of their original function. An exhibition built around this idea can lead to alternative understandings for the experience and purpose of Indian aesthetics.
‘Puja and Piety,’ was conceptualized along these lines and is accompanied with an exhibition catalog, which includes an introduction by Dr. Pal and essays and contributions by Dr. Stephen P.Huyler, Dr. John E. Cort, Dr. Christian Luczanits and Dr. Debashish Banerji, who is the Haridas Chaudhuri Professor of Indian Philosophies and Doshi Professor of Asian Art at the California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco.
The exhibition display was organized by SBMA’s curator of Asian Art, Susan Tai, aided by Dr. Stephen Huyler, Dr. Debashish Banerji, and exhibit designer Joe Cochand of Chicago. Apart from valuable stone and bronze sculptures and the familiar small pictures, the exhibition includes a number of visual genres rarely seen in museums, such as monumental painted temple hangings, meditation diagrams, portable paintings for pilgrims, processional wooden chariot and architectural fragments, ancient terracottas and devotional objects for domestic shrines. These objects represent living sacred traditions from a number of regional cultures and religious sites of India, such as the pilgrimage centers of Nathadwara in Rajasthan, Puri in Odisha, Kalighat in Kolkata, West Bengal, Shatrunjaya in Palitana, (Gujarat), and Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu. Other regional artistic cultures include Paithan in Maharashtra and Chettinad in Tamil Nadu, along with well-known ancient historical cultures of Gandhara in Pakistan/Afghanistan, Mathura in Uttar Pradesh and Chandraketugarh in Bengal.As part of the opening event on April 17, the museum featured an engaging and informative conversation with slides between Dr. Pal and Dr. Huyler, explaining the idea behind the exhibition and many of the objects displayed to a packed house, with visitors coming from long distances.For more info. on the exhibition and accompanying events visit: https://www.sbma.net/exhibitions/puja The Museum is located at 1130 State Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101.