The human body, particularly the beautiful body, is central to artistic expression on the Indian subcontinent. Through the body, artists express fundamental beliefs about the nature of being, social ideals, gender roles, and hierarchies of power, both earthly and divine.
The subcontinent, which extends from Pakistan eastward to Bangladesh and from Nepal southward to Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka, has long been culturally and religiously diverse. By grouping and juxtaposing masterpieces from the museum’s collection, this exhibition explores concepts and aesthetics of the body. The first room considers the perfect bodies of the Hindu gods before turning to the Indian courtly body as site of both pleasure and power. The rear gallery introduces the enlightened bodies of Buddhist and Jain traditions, as well as divine conceptions that transcend physical form.
If the artworks themselves invite the sheer joy of looking, the theme of the body provides a portal for appreciating how India’s extraordinary culture is woven from distinctive but interrelated traditions. On a personal level, these works compel us to reconsider how our own ideals of beauty and gender, including the ways we hold, adorn, or modify our bodies, are shaped by our cultures.
Please note: This exhibition will be temporarily closed to the public from April 2–7, 2023.
Shiva Nataraja (detail), India, Tamil Nadu state, Chola dynasty, ca. 990, bronze, Purchase—Charles Lang Freer Endowment and funds provided by Margaret and George Haldeman, Freer Gallery of Art, F2003.2
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