Hidden away in the Freer-Sackler Gallery website is the following jewel, combining photography, historical watercolor paintings, and archival research:
Yogic Identities: Tradition and Transformation by James Mallinson:
The earliest textual descriptions of yogic techniques date to the last few centuries BCE and show their practitioners to have been ascetics who had turned their backs on ordinary society. These renouncers have been considered practitioners of yoga par excellence throughout Indian history. While ascetics, including some seated in meditative yoga postures, have been represented in Indian statuary since that early period, the first detailed depictions of Indian ascetics are not found until circa 1560 in paintings produced under the patronage of Mughal Emperor Akbar (reigned 1556–1605) and his successors. These wonderfully naturalistic and precise images illuminate not only Mughal manuscripts and albums but also our understanding of the history of yogis and their sects. Scholars have argued for these paintings’ value as historical documents; their usefulness in establishing the history of Indian ascetic orders bears this out. The consistency of their depictions and the astonishing detail they reveal allow us to flesh out—and, sometimes, rewrite—the incomplete and partisan history that can be surmised from Sanskrit and vernacular texts, travelers’ reports, hagiography, and ethnography.
I went down to the Yoga: The Art of Transformation today and sat through the first day of the Yoga and Visual Culture: An Interdisciplinary Symposium. It was overwhelming to absorb the depth and sway of the panels. I also made a fast run through the exhibit at lunch hour, and after the panels were over went back for a second take. Again, just too much to take in during a visit of a few hours. Stunning, jaw-dropping, eye-opening, compelling—I am running out of superlatives.
I bought the catalog, 328 pages of color reproductions of the exhibit items, additional graphic material (200 color and black-and-white illustrations) and interpretative framework to fill the eyes, mind and soul. I am tempted to say that the book is better than the exhibit, but that would be wrong, because they inhabit different realms. The catalog can swing wide with its full-page color reproductions and authoritative essays, but the exhibit has a physicality, a presence, a gravity that leaves an impression on my senses .
We can all breathe easier now. The media gorilla in DC town has issued a first opinion (Not just an announcement of the opening or the social buzz around it). The Washington Post critic Michael Sullivan issued his assessment of the Smithsonian’s exhibit on yoga art at the Freer-Sackler Gallery on the Mall:
‘Yoga: The Art of Transformation’ art review – The Washington Post
Whether the goal is awakening, enlightenment, power or merely good health, people practice yoga today for many different reasons. Yet few understand its tangled Indian roots. Originating more than 2,000 years ago as an offshoot of Hinduism by a group of ascetics who renounced society in order to end suffering, yoga gradually cross-pollinated with Buddhism, Sufi Islam and Jainism before flowering into what we know it as today.
Among its 133 artifacts (including sculpture, paintings, manuscripts, photographs, books, film clips and other materials), the exhibition contains many depictions of the practice that contradict the contemporary stereotype of yoga. Just saying the word now evokes a cliched image of a blissed-out hipster doing a downward dog on an expensive yoga mat.
All I need to do now is actually hop on the Metro to go downtown to see the exhibit. I’ve been consumed by resurrecting and updating another website and it has stolen all my time. I must make time for this, and not be like thousands of other Washingtonians who never take advantage of all the marvelous exhibits that go through DC museums and galleries, not to mention the permanent exhibits.
Washington PostAlec Baldwin and his wife, Hilaria, bring glitz to D.C. yoga gala
“And really, what could be a better way to end this stressful week in Washington than an evening celebrating the art of staying calm? The black-tie, $1,000-a ticket evening (relocated from the gallery to the Mellon because of the shutdown) celebrated the debut of the Sackler Gallery’s “Yoga: The Art of Transformation” exhibit, which opens Saturday. Because there was no time to move the gala back to the museum after the government reopened, photos of sculptures and paintings from the exhibit were shown on video screens on the wall of the dimly lighted room, which piped in soothing, dreamy music throughout the night.”
Of course, the social events revolving around the exhibit give rise to a lot of frivolous reporting about the high-profile sponsors, like Alex Baldwin and his yoga teacher wife, and the usual cliches about yoga. But that’s the price to be paid for making it to the big time. At least, Baldwin makes a show of not taking himself too seriously. The exhibit website lists dozens of events so multiple visits may be necessary to take in all the facets of the exhibit.
The crowd funding initiative for the Smithsonian exhibit of yoga-inspired art may be coming up short:
Freer and Sackler Galleries: Yoga: The Art of Transformation
This groundbreaking exhibition requires special support, and the Smithsonian needs you! Through “Together We’re One,” our crowdfunding campaign for Yoga: The Art of Transformation, we’re hoping to raise $125,000 to help bring yoga’s incredible past to light. All donations will be used to ship more than 130 artworks from around the world to Washington, DC; offer yoga classes in the galleries; host concerts, a symposium, and a family arts festival; and publish a full-color catalogue.
As of today, $59,000 have been raised and there are only five more days to get cash. It’s gutsy to pass the hat so that a government-sponsored event can take place, but in this case, the cause is worthy and a demonstration of how yoga is affecting mainstream American culture. Sequestration has altered budgets at all levels of the Federal government.
Get ready, Washington, we are about to dive deep into yoga’s history over the ages.
YOGA: THE ART OF TRANSFORMATION | Freer and Sackler Galleries
Through masterpieces of Indian sculpture and painting, Yoga: The Art of Transformation explores yoga’s goals; its Hindu as well as Buddhist, Jain, and Sufi manifestations; its means of transforming body and consciousness; and its profound philosophical foundations. The first exhibition to present this leitmotif of Indian visual culture, it also examines the roles that yogis and yoginis played in Indian society over two thousand years.