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Smithsonian Ready to Debut First Visual History of Yoga Exhibit

in YD News, Yoga Origins
Yoga Narashimha, Vishnu in his Man-Lion Avatar, c. 1250 | Cleveland Museum of Art

Yoga Narashimha, Vishnu in his Man-Lion Avatar, c. 1250 | Cleveland Museum of Art

Hear ye, hear ye, yoga shall be museumified. The Smithsonian in Washington, DC will debut the first visual history of yoga exhibit in October 2013 and we shall marvel and look on with awe-inspiring delight at more than 120 objects borrowed from 25 museums and private collections in India, Europe, and the United States showing thousands of years of yoga.

Opening Oct. 19 at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, “Yoga: The Art of Transformation” – touted as ‘the world’s first exhibi­tion about the discipline’s visual history’ – will showcase artifacts, artwork and first writings of yoga dating back over 2,000 years.

For example, on display will be a set of 10 folios from the first illustrated sequence of yoga postures, created for Prince Salim who went on to become Mughal emperor Jahangir.

“Although the postures and practices described and illustrated in Bahral-Hayat manuscript pre-date its production in 1602, we read of them (and see them) for the first time in this manuscript,” Debra Diamond, Associate curator South and Southeast Asian Art at Arthur M Sackler Gallery Freer Gallery of Art told PTI over email.

Another historic highlight is a sculpture of the Bhairava deity created in Karnataka during the 13th century Hoysala dynasty, borrowed from the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

“In the galleries, this will be juxtaposed with a beautiful granite Bhairava from Tamil Nadu (in the collection of the British Museum), which epitomizes the elegant Chola dynasty aesthetic. The two together will delight connoisseurs and intrigue visitors interested in tantric yoga,” says the curator.

Other neato stuff includes:

Eighty masterpieces of sculpture and painting, dating from the 3rd century to the 18th century, illuminate yoga’s central tenets as well as its obscured histories. Some 40 colonial and early modern photographs, books, and films reveal how yoga was despised as superstition during the 19th century and then resurrected in early 20th-century India as a democratic practice open to all.

Also, the Thomas Edison film, Hindoo Fakir (1906), the first movie ever produced in the West about India.

Whew! All this excitement and not even one acrobatic yoga demonstration necessary.

The exhibit was a labor of love since 2008 between curator Debra Diamond and scholars of anthropology, art history, religion, philosophy and sociology. Why the presentation now?

Diamond explained, “…As I looked at more yoga-related objects from other places and periods, I saw that the scholarship on yoga’s history and meanings often seemed to contradict the evidence of material culture.”

“Yoga is a household word the world over, but no one has looked at its visual culture holistically before; we think the exhibition will delight and inform broad audiences,” says Diamond.

Yoga: The Art of Transformation opens October 19, 2013 and will be on view through January 26, 2014.

Will we see these Nike yoga shoes in a future yoga museum exhibit?

[via; via]

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3 comments… add one

  • That is so awesome. I’ve been writing about meditation and have had this sense that the Buddhist traditions – Zen and Insight being the big ones here – have all the weight of their long institutional history behind them in a way that yogic meditation does not. It’s feels as if they are considered legitimate, in our culture, and yogic meditation practices…..well, they’re seen as New Age (meaning somebody just made it up yesterday). I personally love chakra, mantra and pranayama practices and I think I’m not alone in resonating with these in a special way. So, all this to say it is really cool for yoga to get the official seal of approval from the Smithsonian!

  • Marc

    Any idea of the Smithsonian will be publishing an exhibition catalog or guide? As of today, the on-line bookstore doesn’t have anything, but there might be a delay.

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