Jeffrey Durham, “To Image the Universe: How Himalayan Paintings Articulate Self-Contained Cosmoi”
For over a thousand years, Buddhist art traditions of the Himalayas have developed a variety of ways to depict the visionary worlds described in its texts and experienced by its practitioners. From geometric mandalas to lineage trees and dimensional protrusions, this section studies the wide array of visual strategies mastered by Himalayan painters in their ambitious quest accurately to translate transcendent perceptions – and textual formulae – into tangible form. During our time, we will explore actual examples of each visual strategy as represented in the collection of the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. Using these artworks, we will certainly decode the iconography using all the contextual knowledge at our disposal. Beyond this art historical sine qua non, however, we will focus more specifically on how each artwork “works” visually to articulate and meditatively to realize a self-contained contemplative cosmos. Below are five paintings we will examine; they can be found on asianart.org by accession number (B60D22+, B60D37, B60D13+, B63D1, B85D2 in order)
Jeffrey Durham is Associate Curator for Himalayan Art at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. His major exhibitions include “Awaken: A Tibetan Buddhist Journey toward Enlightenment,” “A Guided Tour of Hell,” “Enter the Mandala,” and “Divine Bodies: Sacred Imagery in Asian Art.” Prior to his appointment at the Museum, Dr. Durham was professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, St. Thomas Aquinas College, and George Mason University. His current research and exhibition interests focus on the artistic and interpretive potential of virtual and augmented reality technologies, as well as the Tibetan tradition of treasure teachings.