The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has always been a nice place to visit and a fun place to take my students. There are always new exhibits coming and going there and they try to keep it as fresh as possible. Today I noticed there was a lot of renovation going on, especially in the older building which houses the art from South East Asia, Europe and the Americas.
The South East Asian section was fascinating and very informative. It focused primarily on 3 major religions-Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism. The art was extensive from the 3 major religious groups, with the deities of the 3 major religions being captured in stone and wood carvings and sculptures. They use a thematic approach in showing the religious art based on the names of the deities, the myths and stories surrounding the deities, and the social roles that the deities played in the lives of the people that worshiped them. Buddha was probably the most depicted god, with many interpretations and likenesses of him. The reason for this which fascinated me is the depictions of Buddha varied in conjunction with the spread of Buddhism. Each culture that adopted Buddhism depicted The Buddha with similar facial features and wardrobe indigenous to that particular culture. So in China, Buddha has Chinese facial features and the clothes are Chinese, and so on. This happens with Krishna, Shiva, and other deities from Hinduism and Jainism when those religions spread beyond the borders of their original countries.
The narration (both written as captions and through video) stated something that explains that development. Because there lands are so vast in size, they developed regionally, so one part of India would have different stories about Buddha than other regions of India. That regional theme touches all the Gods and Goddesses that were displayed. Also, the dialect of each region also influenced the name and story or myth of the Deity as well. You will have different pronunciations for the same god or goddess combined with the deeds of that god or goddess formed on a regional basis.
The other major influences surrounding the major religions was the dynasties that unified these regions. That is why, as the narration states, there may be different myths and names, they all had the same theme and were talking about the same gods and goddesses. The era or period in which these sculptures were made also played a part in the history of that religion. The rise and decline in popularity of the major religion throughout various periods in that countries history influenced the art being created. The third influence was trade and the impact of invasion. This had a lasting impact on the culture and region throughout South East Asia. The conquests of Alexander the Great, the Maurya and Gupta empires, and the dynasties that expanded and facilitated trade in China all had a hand in spreading Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism.
I enjoyed my visit and I find that the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is still my first choice to take my students to show them any era of almost any Ancient culture.
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Los Angeles County Museum of Art