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Exhibit on Buddhist art from Myanmar opens in Asia Society

Seventy pieces made from wood, stone, textiles, and bronze, as well as paintings and ritual items are on display. The items are from the fifth to the twentieth century. Josette Sheeran, president and CEO of Asia Society says that the exhibit personifies an, “extraordinary moment in art and diplomacy.”

The exhibit is a “reflection of the extraordinary impact of Buddhism,” said Kevin Rudd, president of the society’s Policy Institute and the former prime minister of Australia. At 90 percent, Buddhists make up the largest portion of the population in Myanmar.

The Asia Society first commissioned the exhibit in 2012. The process of transferring the items from Myanmar was lengthy, and required the society to first establish a sense of trust with Myanmar officials, who feared the items would never be returned, thanks to many instances of unreturned or stolen items. “What we needed from the beginning was the trust,” Myanmar’s Minister of Culture Aye Myint Kyu said. “Of course we knew it was an important opportunity for our country to be able to share these works. But we needed to be sure they would be cared for.”

Adriana Proser, the senior curator of traditional Asian art, travelled to the country thrice in 2014, to allay concerns and pave the way. And she feels that what has been achieved is amazing. “I want people to see what an amazing, broad and deep tradition there is in Myanmar,” she said. “A lot of people like to think about cultures being these very focused isolated groups of people who develop their own culture in a little bubble, but the reality is that there have been other interactions that have gone on for centuries and I think this is an exhibition that illustrates that very well.”

Burmese art grew more diverse as Buddhism established itself in the country, especially between 1000-1200 AD, when use of the Burmese language became more widespread. Architecture and artistic endeavors were pursued during this time, with the life of Gautama the Buddha, finding the most representation. One exhibit features a 900-year-old sandstone sculpture, with a cross-legged Buddha, eyes closed, holding a sword in his right hand, chopping off his top knot. This represents the prince Siddhartha, taking to the path of enlightenment, to become the Buddha.

Other events featuring Burmese culture are set to feature at the society in the next few months.

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