Western or Eastern? A Review of “My Name Is Red” from an art historicalPerspective
“I don’t want to be a tree, I want to be its meaning.”
The drawing of a tree, a copy of one of the illustrations for Enishte Effendi’s book, points out a recurring conflict in the novel “My Name Is Red” between art as representation of the world that God perceives, and art as depiction of the world which naked eye sees. In the world of Islamic art, the artists ought to create images stick to the text and the meaning of the world God created, so the tree on a single sheet laments that he lost his meaning without being a part of a book. When Enishte tells Black what Ottoman miniatures are, he says, “the images are the story’s blossoming in color” (Pamuk, 26). The images function as words to tell the story. Many people even think calligraphy should outweigh images in importance, disparage painting as flirtations with heresy. Continue reading “Review|The History of Miniature Painting in “My Name Is Red””→
A Study of a Water-moon Guanyin statue at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Guanyin, is the Chinese name for Avalokitesvara, the Buddhist deity of compassion, who was created by the end of the sixth century as independent figures because Guanyin became a deity to lead souls to afterlife, to give prosperity, and more importantly to give childbearing. A set of Guanyins known as the Thirty-three Guanyins were represented widely cross China along with the popularity of the imagery. The water-moon Guanyin, Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara in the “water-moon” form, is best known as one of the Thirty-three Guanyins favored by Chan and literati painters since the Song Dynasty (Yu 2001: 233). Examples in painting as well as sculptures are discovered from China, Korea, and Japan over centuries. This article is going to explore a statue of water-moon Guanyin of early Ming by examining its artistic characteristics, patronage, as well as the cult of water-moon Guanyin in late imperial China.
In 1971 Cornelius Chang published a dissertation on paintings of the water-moon Guanyin. He examined the cult of Guanyin by studying indigenous scriptures and miracle tales and specifically analyzing the iconography of the water-moon Guanyin through four earliest paintings at Dun Huang that had been discovered by Stein from 1906 to 1908. By approaching the issue of artistic domestication, Chang claimed that the simplicity of the expression of Guanyin had an appeal for the followers of the Chan sect of Buddhism in Asia, so an evolution in style happened.
Other exciting writings of Chinese Guanyin mainly explore the translation of Avalokitesvara from Indian and Central Asia to China as a compassionate deity, the popularity of Guanyin among all levels of society, the deity’s various manifestations, and the everyday worship of Bodhisattvas in China. However, a critical analysis of the water-moon Guanyin in late imperial china lacks. As a period when multiple religions flourished, a study of a popular deity is necessary. Continue reading “Buddhist Art|The Cult and the Iconography of the Water-moon Guanyin”→
The study of Mughal painting first became an interest for scholars during the colonial period in the eighteenth century. Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the interest was further enhanced by the rich collections of Mughal painting in Europe and America. The naturalism in the Mughal style gained admirations from the collectors in the West, as Pramod Chandra explained: “its relative naturalism proving fairly acceptable to early collectors and students whose preferences reflected, for the most part, the pervasiveness of Western taste at the time.” Besides the pictorial quality, the foreign origin of Mughal art also made it acceptable for the colonizers to prove their cultural superiority over the Indians. Later in the twentieth century, shaped by the Western art historical approaches, interpretative frameworks for studying Mughal painting were established. Basic methodologies had been applied and became concentrations of the art historical practice in 1920s and 1930s such as connoisseurship and formal analysis. Since then, art historians had changed their interest from the European influence to the “interaction of Mughal and European art”. Not only was the impact of the European style on Mughal paintings the focus, the exchange between cultures was also investigated. After the independence (1947), a nationalist art historical perspective had been widely adopted by scholars in India due to the Nehruvian modern nationalism. In the 60s and 70s, scholars began to adapt the frameworks to the Mughal context. They still primarily concentrated on the style and the connoisseurship, but placed the paintings in the Mughal context in which art works were produced and appreciated. In recent decades, the contextual approach has been used by Mughal art historians. The viewpoint of studying Mughal art on its own terms is prevalent. Building context for Mughal painting is the focus of the Mughal academic society.
This article attempts at demonstrating the importance of the context of Mughal illustrated manuscripts. My examination starts with the collection from the South Kensington Museum (now V&A) by focusing on the “proper framing” provided by the art institution. Then I will discuss the history of the pages that had been detached from the binding, the practices of exhibiting and display in the museum space decontextualized the Mughal manuscripts, the digital archive further decontextualized the books.
In 1881, Caspar Purdon Clarke, the first Keeper of the South Kensington Museum’s Indian Department was sent to India to buy contemporary “industrial arts”. He bought some ‘large paintings’ in one of the wooden huts in Kashmir, and brought them to London, which were later identified as Hamzanama, the adventure stories of Amir Hamza, the paternal uncle of the Prophet produced in early Mughal. Continue reading “Mughal Series|Decontextualized Display of Mughal Manuscripts”→
Artist Jitish Kallat’s latest installation Epilogue was on view at the San Jose Museum of Art earlier this year. The Mumbai-based artist photographed 22500 rotis, the Indian pancake-like daily bread to draw profound links between the household food, life, mortality and loss.
Interestingly, each image of the roti represents a phase of the moon, and the successively eaten rotis simulate the moon’s waxing and waning. Viewers could notice that there is a poetic rhythm in this monumental work. Throughout the images of rotis, the lunar cycle comes back over and over again from the first photo frame to the last one. When viewing the images, the continuity would make the viewers feel comfortable in the first place and prompted them to count the moons of each month. Interestingly, some rotis have very similar shape yet not being identical. The black or brown burnt spots on the rotis are different in size and color. Just like the homemade food cooked following the same recipe from our daily dinner plate looks different, the images of the rotis are not repetitions copied from month to month. Instead, there is a sentiment of individuality throughout Kallat’s Epilogue. Moreover, the roti crumbs scattered around are visible on the black background, which look like the romantic moon rings in the dark sky.
However, a discontinuity is also present in this work. Kallat uses solar calendar to show the time cycles and his father’s lifespan. Thus one single moon phase cycle cannot be represented within one frame. A sense of incompleteness is given by the frames cutting through the lunar cycles. The discontinued visual experience would bring viewers feelings of anxiety and instability while imagining a scene in which the artist’s father witnessed the moon with his naked eyes every night, and think about the nature of life, sustenance, and the relationship between cosmic principles and human beings. Also, the fullness is interrupted by a lot of emptiness purposefully left by the artist. Between the last quarter moons and the crescent moons, a few spots are left and darkness takes place. Plus, the last frame has only one image with the rest of the space remaining black and empty.
Unlike most of the contemporary Indian artists who focus on creating art to search for national identity and cultural roots, in Epilogue, Jitish Kallat explores various issues that are more personal and emotional such as family tradition, personal loss, daily food, life and death, and monumentalizes an ordinary man’s lifetime in a universal humanistic way.