Whether you end your morning phone calls with “namaste” or dread the wayward soaring yoga mat inevitably flying towards your head when commuting to or from Brooklyn on the subway, you can’t deny it — yoga is everywhere. Far before yoga boutiques and YouTube tutorials were weaved into the morning rituals of millions around the world, the ancient practice promised first millennium Indians rewards far more ambitious than good health and state of mind, including flight and immortal life.
For nearly as long as yogis have been transforming their minds, bodies and spirits, artists have been documenting their achievements.
While scholars debate the origins of yoga’s practice, the exhibition catalogue dates the earliest artistic references to the tradition back to 3000 B.C., in the archaeological site of Mohenjo-Daro in the Indus River Valley. An exhibition at the Cleveland Museum of Art, home to one of the country’s biggest collections of Asian art, is exploring artistic depictions of yoga from a dizzying array of perspectives ranging from ancient awe to cheeky camp.
“The discipline of yoga is widely recognized around the world as a source for health and spiritual insight,” explained Fred Bidwell, interim director of the Cleveland Museum of Art, in a statement. “However, few are familiar with yoga’s visual history. Through artworks of exceptional aesthetic and historical significance, ‘Yoga: The Art of Transformation’ illuminates yoga’s diverse meanings, applications and philosophical depth.”
The exhibition, curated by Debra Diamond, associate curator of South and Southeast Asian Art at the Smithsonian Institution’s Freer and Sackler Galleries in Washington, D.C., features over 140 works that prove yoga doesn’t just promote transformation in its followers, the practice itself is continually in flux.
Diamond, along with an interdisciplinary team of experts on religion, history, Sanskrit, Islam, philology, Indian culture and art history, has been exploring the yoga-centric art since the 1990s, unearthing the many unknown traditions at one time associated with yoga culture. “Yoga is much more than any of us knew. I mean, the more I worked on this project, the less I knew about yoga and the larger it got.” Even in its earliest origins yoga was never just one thing.
Some more ascetic traditions emphasized celibacy while others preferred gathering at cremation grounds to consume meat, alcohol and sexual bodily fluids. Continue reading >>