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

Oscar Niemeyer Museum

By Oscar Niemeyer Museum

Female character of the play “Katakiuchi Noriyaibanashi” (1794) by “Toshusai Sharaku (Japão, ativo entre 1749 – 1795) “Oscar Niemeyer Museum

Works on paper

Paper has always been one of the favorite media for Asian civilization. Few works are older in other kinds of media—silk, in China, is one of those.  Many kinds of vegetables were used to make paper. In Japan, most of the pastes were made from washi, fibers from the area’s native shrub—kozo (Broussonetia papyrifera), gampi and mitsumata (Edgeworthia chrysantha)—and its production continues to this day, with ancient techniques. Washi was considered by UNESCO an immaterial cultural heritage.  Paper is the natural medium for the ukiyo-e (in literal translation, “portraits of the floating world”). This is a kind of woodblock prints that has thrived in Japan between 17th and 19th century.  [Fausto Godoy]

Photographic Record of the Exhibition Asia: the Land, the Men, the Gods (2018)Oscar Niemeyer Museum

Lakshimi with elephants, 17th-18th centuries, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Natwar Krishna, 18th century, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Scene with master and disciple, Former Mugal Empire (1526 – 1857), From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Landscape (Shan-Shui) with caligraphy, 17h-18th century, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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View of Enshu Akiba with Fukuroi kite (1859) by Utagawa Hiroshige II (Japão, 1829 – 1869)Oscar Niemeyer Museum

At first, it was made for the merchant class in the Edo age (1603–1867) that sought entertainment in kabuki theaters and in the Yoshiwara area, in Tokyo, where geishas and courtesans lived. The word ukiyo (“floating world”) described the hedonist lifestyle of the time. [Fausto Godoy]

At first, it was made for the merchant class in the Edo age (1603–1867) that sought entertainment in kabuki theaters and in the Yoshiwara area, in Tokyo, where geishas and courtesans lived. The word ukiyo (“floating world”) described the hedonist lifestyle of the time. [Fausto Godoy]

At first, it was made for the merchant class in the Edo age (1603–1867) that sought entertainment in kabuki theaters and in the Yoshiwara area, in Tokyo, where geishas and courtesans lived. The word ukiyo (“floating world”) described the hedonist lifestyle of the time. [Fausto Godoy]

Photographic Record of the Exhibition Asia: the Land, the Men, the Gods (2018)Oscar Niemeyer Museum

Scene from the sino-Japanese war (1894 – 1895) by Nagashima Shungyo (Japão, ativo entre 1882 – 1905)Oscar Niemeyer Museum

But the woodblocks were also made to portrait the heroes and their deeds, and the wars that involved the Japanese empire in the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. [Fausto Godoy]

Scene from the coup d’État in Sakurada gate (Late 19th century) by Taiso Yoshitoshi (Japão, 1839 – 1892)Oscar Niemeyer Museum

Battle scene, Heroic historis of Taiheiki (Late 19th century) by Utagawa Yoshitora (Japão, 1840 – 1870)Oscar Niemeyer Museum

Photographic Record of the Exhibition Asia: the Land, the Men, the Gods (2018)Oscar Niemeyer Museum

Calligraphy, 20th century, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Washday, Torii Kiyonaga (Japão, 1752 – 1815), 1788, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Samanosuke Yasuakira, Fujiwara clan, Heroic Histories from Taiheiki, Utagawa Kuniyoshi (Japão, 1798 – 1861), 1848 – 1850, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Shawl with paisley decoration (19th century)Oscar Niemeyer Museum

The old and the new side by side

Two or three vectors can improve the understanding of an exhibition visit. Here you see ancient pieces (some made thousand years ago) and others from the present. The reason why they are also shown here is because there is no gap between old and new in the Asian world, only continuity. The new is made like the old, not for lack of originality (an “Western value”) but because the main idea is permanence. The authentically “ancient” might have a bigger financial value in an auction; but value is not what matters. The main value in this exhibition is the symbol efficacy: if something was made according to the rules, if it fits the system, it is worth it. Likewise, the ideas of originality and copy are not the same as in the Western universe. In this Asian universe there are gestures that stand out, such as the ones from Hiroshige in the prints; the idea of fake, of forgery in opposition to the authentic, remains. But to do like it was made before does not carry the original sin typical of Western art. [Teixeira Coelho]

Photographic Record of the Exhibition Asia: the Land, the Men, the Gods (2018)Oscar Niemeyer Museum

Vessel with inscriptions of the Quran, 18 – 19th Century, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Lamp, 11th century, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Pilgrim’s flask, 18 – 19th Century, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Photographic Record of the Exhibition Asia: the Land, the Men, the Gods (2018)Oscar Niemeyer Museum

Vessel for grinding leaves and food (mortar), 11 – 12th century, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Mahakala mask with crown of skulls, 19 – 20th century, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Wardrobe, 20th century, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Photographic Record of the Exhibition Asia: the Land, the Men, the Gods (2018)Oscar Niemeyer Museum

Photographic Record of the Exhibition Asia: the Land, the Men, the Gods (2018)Oscar Niemeyer Museum

The Chinese invented porcelain.
Its prototype first appeared in the Shang Dynasty (1600–1046 bc) as a very hard paste (stoneware). The process evolved until, during the Song dynasty (960–1279 ad) in Zhingdezhen, northeast region of the Empire, they created furnaces that could reach higher temperatures for firing the pieces, using a very thin clay found there—kaolin—which led to development of very strong and translucent pieces. [Fausto Godoy]

Pot with lid (Qing dynasty, Kangxi emperor (1661 - 1722))Oscar Niemeyer Museum

During the following dynasty, Yuan (1279–1368 ad), the white and blue decoration trend took place and peaked during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644 ad), when access to the raw materials became a privilege of the Empire. That is when great experiments both in colors (derived from mineral pigmentation) as in forms took place.

From this moment onwards, porcelain spread over the region and into the West, becoming one of the most sought products and one of the main Chinese exports. It became so popular around the globe that its name in English became just “china”. Imitated from then on, it inspired the Delft ceramics in Holland and the Meissen in Germany, among others.

Brush water pot, Qing dynasty, Kangxi emperor (1661 - 1722), From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Vase, Qing dynasty, Emperror Qianlong mark and period (1711 - 1799), From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Bowl (Qing dynasty, Qianlong emperor(1711 – 1799))Oscar Niemeyer Museum

The Qing dynasty (1644–1911 ad) is considered the high point in the history of Chinese porcelain. The court controlled the furnaces to the point that Emperor Kangxi (1662–1722 ad) established workshops inside the Imperial Palace.

Photographic Record of the Exhibition Asia: the Land, the Men, the Gods (2018)Oscar Niemeyer Museum

Until the 3rd century bc, when a Chinese member of the high nobility died, his servants—army, pets, and his wives and concubines—were put to death and buried with him to entertain him in the afterlife. They believed that life continued after death, as it happened in this plane.
After the rulership of the Emperor Qin Shi Huandi (260–210 bc), the customs have changed, and people and pets were then replaced by their terracotta figurines. The renowned Xian warriors, placed in the tomb of Qin Shi Huandi, around Chang’an (Xian), preserved the life memory in the Middle Empire in that time.
[Fausto Godoy]

Horse (tomb figure) (Han dynasty (2nd b.C. – 2nd C.E. centuries))Oscar Niemeyer Museum

That is the case of some of the exhibition’s pieces. They show the importance of horses, especially the ones from the Fergana Valley— which goes from the Uzbek Far East throughout Central Asia—, and what camels used to represent for the circulation of people, merchandise, and consequently for the interchange among civilizations.

Horse (tomb figure), Han dynasty (2nd b.C. – 2nd C.E. centuries), From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Horse (tomb figure), Han dynasty (2nd b.C. – 2nd C.E. centuries), From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Arab merchant from the Silk Road with his camel (tomb figure) (Tang dynasty (618 - 907))Oscar Niemeyer Museum

Something remarkable is the pair of camels transporting rugs, led by a foreign merchant, certainly an Arab, which is seen by his traces, curly hair, and thick beard. A register of the cultural miscegenation caused by the Silk Road.

Camel carrying carpets (tomb figure) (Tang dynasty (618 - 907))Oscar Niemeyer Museum

Photographic Record of the Exhibition Asia: the Land, the Men, the Gods (2018)Oscar Niemeyer Museum

Female garment (20th century)Oscar Niemeyer Museum

Male ceremonial wedding garment (20th century)Oscar Niemeyer Museum

Photographic Record of the Exhibition Asia: the Land, the Men, the Gods (2018)Oscar Niemeyer Museum

Bed-spread used on yurts (20th century)Oscar Niemeyer Museum

The arts of Central Asia, the natural territory of the nomads that stretches from the Caspian Sea to China and from Afghanistan to Russia translate its mobility. Except for the Silk Road’s great commercial posts like Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva, in Uzbekistan, there are not many long-standing structures alongside the road that linked Asia to the West. Consequently, on the great spaces over which steppes are spread, much little remained of the steps of Genghis Khan’s hordes, its main hero—and myth—, and of his successors.


Several ethnicities compose the region’s population mesh: Uzbeks, Tajiks, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Turkmen, Uyghurs, among others. What definitely unites them is Islam, the religion to which most of them claim to belong. However, we find many Christians, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, and Jews there. [Fausto Godoy]

Susani with pomegranates and Mirab (20th century)Oscar Niemeyer Museum

Bracellets (19th-20th century)Oscar Niemeyer Museum

Portability is the main base for a transient life. The jewelry that adorned the bodies of women, men, and their mounts (and still do); the rugs and fabrics that cover the yurtas (tents); and the objects of domestic use and Islamic cult are the main witnesses of the richness and sophistication of a civilization that the West called “barbaric.”
Most pieces of the collection are constituted of Turkmen jewelry, one of the main ethnicities that inhabit the regions of Afghanistan, Iran, Northern Caucasus, and Northern Pakistan. These jewels have many purposes: in addition to adorning bodies, some have lucky charms in them. Others, when placed in front and behind someone, can prevent evil eye curses. Additionally, others are signets to seal signed contracts. [Fausto Godoy]

Stamp-Ring, 19th-20th century, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Necklace with pendant and bells, 19th-20th century, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Male Wedding Ornament (Crown), 19 – 20th century, From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Praying Wheel (20th Century)Oscar Niemeyer Museum

The Tibetan plain

Comprises the regions of Tibet, in China; Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh, in India; Nepal and the Kingdom of Bhutan. Spread all over the Himalayas, with mountains of an average height of 4,500 meters, Buddhism reigns undisputedly, except for Nepal, which maintains its Hindu roots.  And this Buddhism is, mainly, the one in its most complex form, the Vajrayana. This branch, according to tradition, uses esoteric practices that make the practitioner speed up his / her path towards enlightenment (or Nirvana), that is, the break of the reincarnation cycle. To achieve it, they use tantric techniques that stimulate spiritual growth.  In this same path of accelerated attempt towards enlightenment resides one of the Vajrayana branch’s main differences in comparison with the other two great Buddhist schools: Theravada (or Hinayana)—or the “small vehicle”—and Mahayana—the “big vehicle.”  In summary, the difference between these three branches is how the practitioner will follow his / her personal law (his / her dharma):  1) solely based on Buddha’s teachings (Theravada is literally translated as “the teachings of the ancients”);  2) with the assistance of people that could have reached redemption—the bodhisattvas—, but due to their love for mankind, decided to remain in this life to support it: that is the Mahayana branch;  3) through tantric-esoteric rituals: Vajrayana.  This last one, however, do not infer that the other two are mistaken; actually, it considers their practices as essential foundations on which the Vajrayana can be built.  The exhibition especially displays pieces of this last Buddhist branch: the prayer wheel, which the practitioner uses to recite his six-syllable mantra—Om Mani Padme Hum—, which invokes Avalokiteshvara, the compassion bodhisattva. It also exhibits ritual objects used in the temples. [Fausto Godoy]

“Buddha in the Bhumisparsha Mudra posture” (Ming dynasty (1368 – 1644))Oscar Niemeyer Museum

Bhumisparsha Mudra: touching the earth or "Earth witness": hand posture associated with persistence of Shakyamuni Buddha's unshakeable quest of lightning. [Fausto Godoy]

Bhumisparsha Mudra: touching the earth or "Earth witness": hand posture associated with persistence of Shakyamuni Buddha's unshakeable quest of lightning. [Fausto Godoy]

Buddha in the Dhyana Mudra posture, Ming dynasty (1368 – 1644), From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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“Buddha in the Prithvi Mudra posture “, Ming dynasty (1368 – 1644), From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Buddha in the Varada Mudra posture, Ming dynasty (1368 – 1644), From the collection of: Oscar Niemeyer Museum
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Credits: Story

Part III

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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