Picturing Indian Spells in Medieval China
Presented in association with China Institute
The Buddhist mantra or spell (dharani) is to be chanted, but it was a common practice for the medieval Chinese to illustrate this verbal formula. What visual form could possibly capture the imagined efficacy of a dharani? The matter became more complicated when the Indian mantra met the Chinese spell. Were they visualized or pictured differently? Could they work together? What was the division of labor between them? To make the matter even more complicated, there were many cases when the visual renditions of verbal spells were hidden in places where they could not be seen. Why bother to make pictures that have no audience?
This richly illustrated keytalk is part of Exporting Enlightenment, a ten-part series over the summer that traces the spread of Buddhism and Hinduism along these cultural and trade trajectories. For the full series that accompanies the exhibition From India East see www.rmanyc.org/exportingenlightenment
About the Speaker
Eugene Wang is the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Professor of Asian Art at Harvard University. A Guggenheim Fellow (2005), he received an Academic Achievement Award (2006) from Japan in recognition of his book, Shaping the Lotus Sutra: Buddhist Visual Culture in Medieval China. He is the art history editor of the Encyclopedia of Buddhism (2004). His extensive publication ranges from the ancient to modern and contemporary Chinese art and cinema. He currently serves on the advisory board of the Center for Advanced Study of Visual Art, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. His current projects include a book on the voice effect of Chinese painting and a new history of Chinese art.
Image: Mahapratisara dharani print dated 980 from Dunhuang. British Museum. Ink and colors on paper. 41.7 x 30.3 cm. Courtesy of the British Museum