Protect me: Sacred guardians from around the world

Over the centuries, the guardian has been a prominent figure within various cultures and religious doctrine, although their style and purpose can be seen to vary with each cultures values and beliefs. This exhibition examines the guardian figure from around the world, investigating their cultural significance and unique purposes. Acting as a protector for both the living and the dead, these figures guard different aspects of life, attempting to repel negative energy and bring people peace and prosperity. They represent a connection to the spiritual world, symbolizing the ancestors of ones culture and being adopted as deities. Through their meticulous placement, whether it is at the entrance of a temple, within a tomb, or affixed to a means of transportation, these guardians work endlessly to ward off potential evil and misfortune, protecting individuals from enemies and opposing forces. Each is given unique features and characteristics specific to their purpose, which help establish their reputation as either a temperate or ferocious protector. For this exhibition I have chosen ten artifacts, from the vast history of guardians, to demonstrate the unique cultural significance of these figures.

Place of Creation: Israel The goddess figurine, otherwise known as “great mother,” has been widely depicted within ancient civilizations. She represents life, regeneration, and the mystery of nature. She is the guardian of humans and animals, the bearer of all living things, and the provider of souls.
Place of Creation: Cambodia Guardian lions were placed on terraces and stairways, guarding central pyramidal structures. These residences represented the gods at the center of the Hindu world and therefore needed protection of these guardians to ward of potential enemies. The carvings and patterns depicted here display the Javanese influence crucial to Khmer culture.
Place of Creation: China This guardian would have been placed close to the burial chamber's of princes and officials upon their death, in order to repel potential evil. This armored guardian helps portray aspects of the elite life of China’s diverse Tang dynasty.
Place of Creation: Japan This mask represents the Buddhist mythology of Garuda, an enormous predatory bird with both animalistic and divine characteristics. The Garuda are enemies to the Naga, a race of intelligent serpent, whom they hunt in order to protect those in the southern region who were exposed to the risks of poisonous snakes.
Place of Creation: Japan One of two dvarapalas sculptures that would have been placed on either side of the outer doors of monasteries, guarding them and Buddhist doctrine. According to Japanese tradition, they traveled with Buddha to protect him. These figures are warrior-like and are said to justify the use of physical force to protect cherished values and beliefs against evil.
Place of Creation: India This sculpture would have been affixed to the entrance of a temple sanctum to protect it from potential evil. Dvarapala were also installed beside temple gateways, secret entrances, windows and on either sides of sacred Hindu complexes representing the cardinal and ordinal directions.
Place of Creation: New Zealand This decoratively carved squatting hauki guardian figure would be affixed to the prow of the Maori warriors war canoes. Facing inwards with a fixed gaze on the warriors, this figure represented ancestors who spiritually accompanied them on raids of enemy settlements as part of a cycle of revenge skirmishes.
Place of Creation: Tibet Kubera is the Buddhist guardian of wealth and treasures; shown through his retinue, the 'nakula', or mongoose that spits coins and gems, as well as his robust figure and adornment of jewels. Kubera can also be seen as the guardian of religious teachings guiding people to perfection.
Place of Creation: Mongolia Tsiu Marpo is a guardian deity of the Buddhist teachings, protecting Samye, the oldest Buddhist monastery in Tibet. He ensures the continual survival of these teachings within Tibet and more broadly, the world.
Place of Creation: Switzerland This funerary monument depicts the religious allegory of the guardian angel accompanying a child to eternal life. Predominantly within the Christian religion, the guardian angel acts as a protector to a specific person, group or country, watching over them and presenting prayers to God.
Credits: All media
This user gallery has 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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