Exhibition: How to Make the Universe Right – The Art of Priests and Shamans from Vietnam and Southern China

Exhibition dates: 30 July 2017 – 7 January 2018

‘How to Make the Universe Right’ presents a large selection of rare religious scrolls, ceremonial clothing and ritual objects of the Yao, Tày, Sán Dìu, Cao Lan, Sán Chay, Nùng and other populations of northern Vietnam and southern China. Each group has their own traditions of educating and initiating priests and shamans, who serve as intermediaries between the physical and spiritual worlds and between the community and deities, in order to make the universe right through healing, balancing the forces of nature, and communicating with ancestors. The Yao’s practices are most prominently associated with Daoism, a religious and philosophical tradition of Chinese origin, while for the other peoples, Daoist beliefs are combined with aspects of Buddhism, Tantrism and Confucianism.

The works of art in the exhibition, most of which date to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, provide the material foundation for the regional manifestations of religious practices. Examples in the exhibition include vibrantly coloured and intricately embroidered ritual robes and headdresses worn by priests, and a spectacular set of eighteen scrolls of elaborately painted deities, made for those engaged in the higher levels of initiation. The exhibition also features a display evoking the shrines constructed for ceremonies, a film on contemporary religious practices in the region, and a selection of scrolls highlighting their recent conservation and what this has revealed.

All of the works on view are part of the Barry and Jill Kitnick Collection generously donated by the Kitnicks to the Fowler Museum at UCLA in 2015.

For more information, visit the website of the Fowler Museum, Los Angeles, USA.

Advertisements

Exhibition: Textiles from Sumba, Indonesia

thomas-murray-sumba-exhibition

Exhibition dates: this is an online exhibition, available to view indefinitely

A special exhibition of textiles from Sumba, curated by HALI contributing editor Thomas Murray and drawing from his extensive collection, is available to view online. It begins:

“The island of Sumba may be found on a map between Bali and New Guinea but it exists in its own world, far apart from those antipodal lands. Divided east and west by language and environmental conditions, the west tends to be more wet and green and the east, dryer.

Sumbanese religion, Marapu, recognizes that a dualistic symmetry exists in the universe, that of male and female, hot and cold, sun and moon, cloth and metal. Here there are good and bad spirits hovering nearby, needing ritual offerings on a regular basis. The ancestors must most especially be cared for.

Sumba is thus home to one of the strongest animistic tribal societies found in Indonesia, perhaps most famous for its notorious custom of cutting off the heads of enemies and placing them on the branches of a designated tree, the pohon andung, at the entrance of the village. Such trees represented the Tree of Life as well as serving to remind viewers of the power of the raja.

Sumba has a rich megalithic heritage, featuring giant stone tomb memorials. Sumbanese houses, particularly the customary houses found in royal villages, known as rumah adat, are understood to be cosmic diagrams, with the underworld of the animals below, the mid-level for human habitation and the high roof being the realm of the ancestors. This is also the place where the pusaka heirloom treasures are stored, to be closer to the departed souls; precious gold jewelry and fabulously rare and beautiful textiles were kept just under the peak of the roof on both sides of the island. But the art of weaving and dyeing achieved greatest heights in the east, with ikat textiles adding bright colors to the dusty brown background of this, the dry side of the island.”

To view the exhibition, visit Thomas Murray’s website.

Exhibition: Egypt – Faith after the Pharaohs

British Museum - Post-Pharaonic Egypt

Exhibition dates: 29 October 2015 – 7 February 2016

Discover Egypt’s incredible journey over twelve centuries, as Jews, Christians and Muslims transformed this ancient land. It is a story charting the change from a world of many gods to the worship of one god.

The exhibition begins in 30 BC, when Egypt became a province of the Roman Empire after the death of Cleopatra and Mark Antony, and continues until AD 1171 when the rule of the Islamic Fatimid dynasty came to an end. The remarkable objects in the exhibition have been uniquely preserved in Egypt’s arid climate, and many have never been on display before. Their survival provides unparalleled access to the lives of individuals and communities, and they tell a rich and complex story of influences, long periods of peaceful coexistence, and intermittent tension and violence between Jews, Christians and Muslims.

The state’s use of religion to assert power is shown by fabulous sculptures that mix ancient Egyptian and Roman imperial iconography, and letters on papyrus concerning the treatment of Jews and early Christians. Gravestones and architectural elements demonstrate the reuse and reworking of sacred spaces – temple complexes were reused as churches and, later, mosques.

The changes in people’s private lives are shown through everyday objects – delicate fragments of papyrus preserve some of the earliest surviving Jewish scriptures and lost Christian gospels. Colourful garments and accessories show what people wore, and soft-furnishings show how they dressed their homes. A particular textile highlight of the exhibition is an extraordinary pair of Coptic door curtains (see detail pictured above). These were reused as a burial shroud, hence how they have survived until now.

Together, the objects in the exhibition show how the shift from the traditional worship of many gods to monotheism affected every part of life. Egypt’s journey from Roman to Islamic control reflects the wider transformation from the ancient to medieval world, a transition that has shaped the world we live in today.

For more information, visit the website of the British Museum, London.