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Asian art exhibit 'The Buddha and Shiva, Lotus and Dragon' arrives at the Ackland

Community members visit the Ackland Art Museum for the Buddha and Shiva, Lotus and Dragon exhibit, which runs from Oct. 8 to Jan. 9. The new exhibit features nearly seventy artistic pieces from ceramics to metalwork.

On Oct. 8, the traveling "Buddha and Shiva, Lotus and Dragon" art exhibit made its way to UNC's Ackland Art Museum. 

The exhibit, which will travel to a total of five museums, includes pieces from a variety of time periods and cultures across Asia, including Cambodia, Vietnam, India and more. The works curated by the Asia Society Museum and American Federation of the Arts — the exhibit's main organizers — also feature ceramics and stone sculptures.  

“This exhibit represents breath across time and across countries,” Linda Clark, who guides museum tours at the Ackland, said.

Some pieces included in the collection are Shiva as Lord of the Dance (Shiva Nataraja), multiple depictions of Buddha, and a sculpture of Ganesha, the elephant-headed son of Shiva and Parvati. 

This art is part of the Masterworks from the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection at Asia Society. It was curated by John D. Rockefeller III and his wife, Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller. The late Sherman Lee, who served as Rockefeller III’s adviser, is a famed Asian art scholar who was on the Ackland’s National Advisory board and brought his interest in this specific area of art with him to Chapel Hill.

Lee was instrumental in creating the Ackland's premier collection of Asian art in the Southeast, which contributed to the creation of Asia Society, a nonprofit founded by John D. Rockefeller III that aims to connect Asia and the rest of the world through arts, education, policy and business outreach. 

Rockefeller collected the art now displayed at the Ackland based on quality. 

“One of the things that really stands out is that it's the best of the best of the best,” Michèle Wije, a curator for the American Federation of Arts, said of the exhibit. 

Most exhibits at the Ackland are curated thematically, each piece intentionally selected to tell a specific story. But for the "Buddha and Shiva" exhibit, each piece was chosen for the quality of the art, rather than to fit a certain theme. However, many pieces in the exhibit do showcase spiritual and religious messages.

“Even if you don’t adhere to a particular faith, there can be something enormously reassuring and enormously calming to be in the presence of these masterpieces of a faith tradition,” Peter Nisbet, the Ackland’s deputy director for curatorial affairs, said.

Nisbet said the serenity and peace the art brings is one of the most important and unique aspects of the exhibit.

“I think in our own current, rather dark times, both on campus and in the world, an exhibition like this can offer a lot of consolation and comfort and solace,” Nisbet said.

The exhibit's organizers said they hope visitors take away this sense of peace and comfort when they experience the "Buddha and Shiva, Lotus and Dragon" exhibit.

“If you can come and sit for even just 10 minutes in front of one of these works of art, it makes this lovely break from all the stresses and strains that everyone is thinking about,” Carolyn Allmendinger, director of education and interpretation at the Ackland, said. “I think that’s something that people on our campus will really like about this show, having something to wonder about and marvel at.”

Even with its complexity, the "Buddha and Shiva" exhibit is intended for everyone, no matter their level of artistic expertise.

“This kind of art resonates across cultures, for young people, old people, anyone,” Wije said. “A lot of people can find something they’ll like or something they’ll connect with, which is not always the case.”

The "Buddha and Shiva, Lotus and Dragon" exhibit is open to the public until Jan. 9. Visitors can sign up for a guided tour of the exhibit here.


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