Devotion and Performance: Traditional Uses of Visual Form in South Asia

October 9–December 16, 1990

At devotional centers in both North and South India, paintings on paper and small devotional images were produced for sale to devotees.

Often quickly and cheaply executed, these works nonetheless retained the essential iconography thereby allowing viewers easy identification of the deities represented. Important Hindu temples at Tanjore and Mudrai, paintings and images of deities such as Laksmi and Parvati were purchased for worship at home. At the end of the 19th century, the temple of the popular goddess Kali in Calcutta became a center for the production of devotional paintings and prints. Oil paintings using new European materials and techniques were executed for the elite of Calcutta, who framed and hung the paintings, similar to the way in which western art is displayed.

This art form may have also been important in performances of sacred stories, such as the tradition in Bengal, where a community of storytellers still paints scrolls which they use when reciting religious stories to large rural audiences.

The twelve sculpture, paintings on paper, prints, and oil and tempera paintings included in this exhibition, dating from the 19th and 20th centuries, provided a useful complement to the concurrent loan exhibition, Leaves from the Bodhi Tree.

Curator: Woodman Taylor, graduate student intern.