Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Two Exhibitions Worth Seeing at the Sackler Museum

Saturday morning's free until noon at the Sackler and the Fogg, so naturally we like to visit regularly. Both have wonderful little permanent collections (my favorites being the Rossettis at the Fogg and the Palmyran sculpture at the Sackler) and I never tire of them. The exhibitions are a mixed bag, however: you never know if you're going to see a grad student's thesis or if you'll happen on something that is really amazing. We were very lucky last weekend.

The first exhibit was on the Hunt in Iran and India. Beyond just supplying food, the hunt was used for Indian princes as a way to establish rank among their nobles, to interact with and check on the condition of their subjects, and to train for war. Women were allowed to participate, as well, as was documented in some of the images on display. In Iran, falconry was an obsession. One noble, moved by the beauty of an injured bird he had received, commissioned a portrait of the poor animal before it died of its wounds. Interesting to note were the adaptations made to Islam to accomodate hunting, as killing anything was a sin.

I've always been fascinated by graphic representations of language and the beauty that they can have independently of what they symbolize. Marks of Enlightenment, Traces of Devotion is an exhibition of Japanese Calligraphy from the private collections of two Harvard Alumni. It is a comprehensive overview of this art spanning from the eighth to the 20th century, featuring copies of Sutras and other teachings in a formal style based on Chinese characters to more informal renderings, such as letters, diary entries and poetry, not to mention some examples of the wonderful Zen meditations. There are some great explanations on the range of written language used, the richness of materials that the texts were written upon, as well as conservation efforts of items that were considered by those who created them to be more beautiful in decay. All in all, this was a great feast for the mind and the eyes. It's only going to be up, however, until the 16th of April - so next weekend's your last chance to see it if you are able.

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