Sunday, October 27, 2013

Strange and Wondrous: Prints of India from the Robert J. Del Bonta Collection

Where: Sackler Gallery

When: through January 5, 2014

This one room exhibit is a nice accompaniment to the yoga show, as it deals with art about India, specifically with Western impressions of India.  The more global travel increased and the more Europeans and Americans were able to travel to India, the greater grew the interest in this country and its culture.  Increased travel brought a greater knowledge of Indian culture, but also increased the opportunity for stereotyped views to proliferate.

Just as the final part of the yoga exhibit demonstrated, negative views of Indian religious figures were everywhere - they were depicted as tricksters, among other things.  Western observers didn't understand Indian religious practices, especially the aesthetics, who renounced society, and interpreted their actions through a Christian framework.  These depictions began as early as 1675 and continued through the Victorian era.

For their part, Indians were unable to explain their culture or religious practices to Westerners, so the lack of understanding existed on both sides.  Europeans and Americans tended to categorize Indians either as aesthetic saints or as criminals, with little middle ground.  Eventually, they turned against the holy men, and viewed them with disgust, as vagabonds.  Interestingly enough, this viewpoint came to the fore at the same time as they turned against vagrants in Britain itself.  The British Raj also attempted to regulate religious ceremonies according to their own principles.  All in all, a lack of understanding on both sides that fed on itself.

If you're thinking that the picture above is a Norman Rockwell, you're quite right.  You can imagine my surprise to see this in a show about India.  It was done during WWII and shows an American GI amazing a fakir with a rope trick of his own.  This is one of the milder depictions of Indian holy men.

The show focuses on Western art about India, so I felt as if I wasn't learning much about India itself, but more about Western views of India.

Verdict: A nice addition to the yoga show - if you've got enough time, you could add this on to your visit.

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