Mar 2, 2018

Asia: the Land, the Men, the Gods | Part One

Oscar Niemeyer Museum

Oscar Niemeyer Museum

Garden lantern (Ishi-tōrō), Meiji era (1866 - 1912), From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
The gesture
This exhibition, a snapshot of a large collection, is a world in itself. Another world, different from what is called the Western world (even though they’re getting closer and closer). And, as always, when we enter a strange world, the first feeling we get is chaos. Objects and figures look like an indistinct mess. Form, in our first glance, is void.  But this world soon starts suggesting its own order, its meanings. The first sign of this order is the gesture: the clear gesture—a hand pointing upwards; fingers composing a figure whose meaning is fleeting. The gesture is everywhere—because the hand, a human value as important as the brain, is everywhere; because the body is everywhere in this world. And alongside this gesture comes the invisible gesture, before the explicit one. This is embedded in the fabrics handmade on loom; the embroidery; the curve of a bamboo wire in such a way that its form resembles the magnetic shape of lacquer pieces; the grooves in chairs and chests; the inscribed text (at the same time, the painted text) in Japanese calligraphy. [Teixeira Coelho]
Photographic Record of the Exhibition Asia: the Land, the Men, the Gods, 2018, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
Nat (guardian), 20th century, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
Nat (guardian), 20th century, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
Nat (guardian), 20th century, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
Photographic Record of the Exhibition Asia: the Land, the Men, the Gods, 2018, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
Photographic Record of the Exhibition Asia: the Land, the Men, the Gods, 2018, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
Ganesha, the kind one
Ganesha, also known as Ganapathi, is one of Hinduism’s best-known deities. Son of the god Shiva and his consort Parvati, Ganesha is the subject of legends that tell his story and origins as a “hybrid” form, a human body with the head of an elephant. Ganesha is considered a remover of obstacles and granter of success and abundance. He is also the master of intellect, wisdom and the symbol of logical and reasonable solutions. He represents the balance between strength and kindness, power and beauty, and is also a symbol of the ability to distinguish between truth and illusion, real and false. For these reasons, his devotees invoke his protection before starting any task—travelling, doing business, beginning a new job, performing a ceremony or any sort of public presentation (a musical act, a speech, etc.). <b> Ganesha opens this exhibition: Aum Shri Ganeshaya Namah. </b> [Fausto Godoy]
Ganesh, 21th century, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum

He is particularly worshipped in Mumbai, where each year his festival is celebrated at the end of August—Ganesha Chaturthi— when plaster images are made of him and are worshipped all around the town.

Ganesh, 21th century, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum

On the last day of the festival they are thrown in the sea, carrying with them the bad luck, giving the people hope for a better future.

Ganesh, 21th century, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum

The piece shown here comes from a workshop that creates images for the festival.

Recipient, Harappan era (V - II millenia b.C.), From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
The Indus Valley Civilization
Parallell to the civilizations that developed alongside the Yellow and the Yangtze rivers, in China, at the Indus river area, near the fourth millennium bc, another great civilization arose. It has thrived between 3,300 and 1,900 bc, in the region that now encloses Balochistan, Sindh and Punjab, currently in Pakistan. The Mehrgarh inhabitants migrated to this area around 7,000 bc and gave birth to the Indus Valley Civilization. This civilization, also called Harappan, a reference to the archeological site of Harappa, in the Pakistani Punjab, was spread, in its apex, over 1.5 million square kilometers, a territory larger than Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt combined. For reasons not clear yet, it came to an end in a more or less abrupt way, around 1,900 bc, and remained forgotten for millennia, until its existence came to light with the excavation by the British archeologist Sir John Marshall in 1920.  Its remains, in the archeological sites of Harappa as well as in Mohenjo-Daro, further south, are still intriguing for their advanced urban planning knowledge.  <b>The vestiges of civilizations in the Indus Valley survive, above all, through ceramics, which shows very peculiar features. </b> [Fausto Godoy]
Recipient, Harappan era (V - II millenia b.C.), From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
Recipient, Harappan era (V - II millenia b.C.), From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
Recipient, Harappan era (V - II millenia b.C.), From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
Mother-Godess with laurel wreath, 1st and 2nd centuries c.e, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
Devi (Mother-Godess), Maurya era (322 b.C. - 187 C.E.), From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
Portal of residence or madrassa (Koranic school), 18th-19th century, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
The Detail
The second sign of this other universe’s order is detail. This is the universe of detail, which stems from gesture. Everything is made from detail: the full view does not allow a total understanding of what is shown, you have to scan the details. Once again, seeing this world means a better view to “our” world, “our” art from which detail was abolished, just like the gesture: impressionism is the realm of wholeness, and in cubism, abstractionism and conceptualism, detail has no role to play. But in this (still) imaginary territory that is Asia and its art, nothing exists but detail. Detail becomes ornament, and everything is ornament next to ornament, everything is ornament from another ornament. The Western person who lives in a stylized world, reduced and simplified (and impoverished, nowadays)—from architecture to design objects and trashy clothes—is no longer used to detail and ornament. [Teixeira Coelho]
Photographic Record of the Exhibition Asia: the Land, the Men, the Gods, 2018, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
Yakshi (Shalabhanjika), XI – XII centuries, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum

Yakshis are feminine entities (demigods) similar to Greek nymphs. They are part of the Hindu and Buddhist pantheons—in this case, called apsaras (heavenly ballerinas) and gandharvas (celestial musicians).

Shalabhanjika comes from Sanskrit and means “breaking a branch of a sala tree.”
Yakshis were benevolent spirits of evident sexuality, guardians of earthen riches.

Yakshi (Shalabhanjika), XI – XII centuries, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum

The woman almost always has prominent traces (breasts, loins, thighs, and head) and is seen covered by adornments and jewelry, although some are almost naked. The goal is to highlight her femininity and fecundity.

Yakshi (Shalabhanjika), XI – XII centuries, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum

The image of a chaste woman, in spite of her look and sometimes her pose, is associated to sala trees, which implies the plant’s fertilization in contact with the woman. [Fausto Godoy]

Kubera, king of Yakshas, Gupta era (320 - 550 c.E.), From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
Buddha’s head, 4th-5th centuries, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
Tirthankara-Jina Parshvanatha, 11th-12th century, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
Photographic Record of the Exhibition Asia: the Land, the Men, the Gods, 2018, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
Buddha on the Bhumisparsha Mudra position, Ming dynasty (1368 - 1644), From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
Servant (tomb figure), Ming dynasty (1368-1644), From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
Jug with lid (tomb pottery), Zhou dynasty, Warring States period (475-221 b.C.), From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
Photographic Record of the Exhibition Asia: the Land, the Men, the Gods, 2018, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
The jade monster
Every collection has its Mona Lisa, a piece that becomes an object of singular—real or imaginary, intrinsic or external—values (events surrounding it, former owner, histories about its origin and journey, identity links). This jade monster head can be one of this collection’s Mona Lisas. Firstly, due to its age. Dating a jade block is not an easy task; its hardship is already a great obstacle. How old is it? An actual ancient jade piece must belong to a period before the 2nd century bc. An archaic piece may belong to a more recent lot and be inspired by ancient styles with no intention of deceiving: the “copy-the-ancient” Chinese tradition is long, and the idea of imitating begun in the Song dynasty (960–1279 ad) and continues to the present day. Imitating means recognizing and paying tributes to the value of the original; in Michelangelo’s time, someone who wanted to get established as an artist should first perfectly copy a master— and only then innovate.  This jade head may belong to the late Neolithic period (ca. 1500 bc) or may be closer to the year zero. [Fausto Godoy]
Tomb Guardian, Late neolithical (IV-II millenia b.C.), From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum

Other pieces of this same kind and period had a purpose (protect a house, keep demons away) and a shape (round eyes, big teeth). They may represent a mask or a helmet (hand and arms suggest a human shape), may represent a being whose hairs flutter by its head as so many other similar pieces. Anyway, it amazes us—by its material; by his / her modern or futuristic shape, as so many cave paintings dating between 30,000 and 40,000 years bc do. It merges the human gesture that created (or copied, adapted) it and the reverberation of the magical mind that animates it. It looks at us from a mythical period—and we feel what it means. A masterpiece. [Fausto Godoy]

Hexagonal chair, Ming dynasty (1368 – 1644), From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
Another Idea of Beauty
In this exhibition’s universe, it all comes from a convergence of gesture and detail, which provides a different idea of beauty, usually translated (and denied) in an idea of bad taste. There are so many details and each one is more impressive than the other. To understand them, and to understand the Asian taste you have to consider that these objects do not offer any kind of asceticism, transcendence or idealism: what exists and matters is in the visible gesture, in the evident detail. “Good taste” in the West is only possible when one seeks to escape what exists. This is not about defending the “Eastern values” and despising the “Western values”: each one is different and we must understand what both can offer and why. When you are not searching for asceticism, purification, depuration, the scale of taste is different.  Nothing, however, is trivial; nothing is by chance—because nothing here stems from improvisation or lack of purpose. [Teixeira Coelho] 
Ark for a bride’s trousseau (dowry), 19th century, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum

In Asia, furniture is the testimony of a long history of the continent, revealing influences that other civilizations received along the centuries. [Fausto Godoy]

Merchant’s furniture (Choba-dansu), Edo era (1603 – 1868) or Meiji era (1868 – 1912), From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum

In Japan, the main feature was utilitarianism. The dansus (dressers and wardrobes) have many shapes because they served to predetermined functions. There was a specific name for each one: isho-dansu for clothes; cha-dansu for tea ceremony; zeni-bako for storing money, etc. Some were connected to staircases, used as steps: the hako-kaidan. The dansu shown here—Chobadansu—is the merchant’s dresser. [Fausto Godoy]

Kimono with floral painting, 20th century, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
Kimono with floral painting for use in spring, 20th century, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
Photographic Record of the Exhibition Asia: the Land, the Men, the Gods, 2018, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
Altar-coffer, Ming dynasty (1368 – 1644), From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum

Furniture in China is a portrait of the aesthetic models of a hierarchical society. The austerity of the altar form of the pair of chairs shown here reveals the rigorous understanding of the world by the aristocratic bureaucracy—in China, one could only reach an imperial administrative position through very hard competition. Almost undecorated, the emphasis was on the natural beauty of wood. Rigor and tasteful frugality were favored. [Fausto Godoy]

Yoke-back chair, Ming dynasty (1368 – 1644), From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
Photographic Record of the Exhibition Asia: the Land, the Men, the Gods, 2018, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
Basket for Ikebana arrange, 19th-20th century, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
Basket for Ikebana arrange, 19th-20th century, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
Basket for Ikebana arrange, 19th-20th century, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
Sofa-bed, 19th century, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum

The furniture in the Swat Valley, in Pakistan, holds to this day the memory of the Hellenistic civilization, led by Alexander ii of Macedonia (Alexander the Great) troops, when they arrived in 327 bc. Isolated by valleys that surround the extreme heights of Hindu Kush, this heritage is kept by the population in their physical features and its ancient influence is preserved in their art. Decoration, sofa and bed carvings look like the Corinthian’s acanthus leaves, which prevailed in Greece around the 5th century bc. [Fausto Godoy]

Credits: Story

Part II

Asia: the Land, the Men, the Gods

Curatorship: Fausto Godoy and Teixeira Coelho
Promotion: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
Room: 5

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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