Australian Art



13/Oct/2006 - 28/Jan/2007

VENUE: Art Gallery of New South Wales

The first major exhibition in Australia to explore the many manifestations of the divine female in Hindu and Buddhist art.

The all-powerful Goddess has been a source of inspiration and guidance to followers for centuries. She protects, loves, comforts, champions, seduces, enlightens, saves and empowers, says Jackie Menzies, curator of this exhibition. Goddesses help guide us to spiritual attainment and ultimate bliss.

There are millions of goddesses. Countless images of the goddess in Hindu and Buddhist art depict her variously as seductive, benevolent, and malevolent: a loving mother, a compassionate saviour or rage personified. With her male counterpart she can be the compliant consort or the passionate lover.

Goddess: Divine Energy will be the first major exhibition in Australia to explore the many manifestations of the divine female in Hindu and Buddhist art. Over 150 exquisitely carved sculptures and lavish, richly coloured and delicately composed paintings from India, Tibet and Nepal, dating from 2000 BCE through to the 20th century, have been gathered from museums and private collections from around the world.

There are also gods in the exhibition. Lord Shiva, is a complex character: yogi, loving husband, destroyer of the universe. Goddess Parvati, however, catches his eye. Won over not by her beauty but by her asceticism, he asks for her hand. Shiva's marriage with Parvati is a model of conjugal love, sanctifying the forces that carry on the human race.

In the exhibition viewers will encounter Kali, the Dark Goddess and also the Goddess of Freedom who uses her power to overcome all evil and remove ego, Durga - Goddess of Strength, White Tara - Goddess of Health, Green Tara - Goddess of Compassion, Parvati - Goddess of Happiness, Lakshmi - Goddess of Prosperity and Radha - Goddess of Love.

Jackie Menzies says that the last decade has seen an enormous interest in eastern religions and philosophies as people search for new spiritual models that help them in today's world.

There will be four sections to the exhibition:

THE DIVINE MOTHER which has images that articulate the nurturing power of the Goddess through early fertility and nature figures. This will demonstrate the importance of the Goddess to the early Indic understanding of duality as expressed in imagery of male/female nature spirits (yaksha/yakshi) and mithuna (amorous couples).

GODDESSES IN HINDUISM which will comprise three parts: The Goddess and Vishnu, The Goddess and Shiva and the Goddess on her own. This section will survey images of the romantic, yet spiritually symbolic story of Radha and Krishna. The section will include examples of the marriage of Shiva and Parvati, and of the androgynous form of Ardhanarishvara (half Shiva, half Parvati) which exemplifies the famous saying: ‘just as the moon does not shine without moonlight, so also Shiva does not shine without Shakti'. The third part of this section will focus on the power of the Goddess, or Devi, as articulated in the pivotal sixth century narrative poem, the Devi Mahatmya (‘Glory of the Goddess'), and in graphic images of the powerful goddesses Durga and Kali.

YOGA TANTRA will look at the Goddess represented in symbolic form through diagrammatic yantras, mantras (sonic formulae), mandalas and subtle body drawings depicting chakras, demonstrating how the body is the instrument to achieve enlightenment.

GODDESSES IN BUDDHISM. The first part of this section, ‘Wisdom', will present the divine female principle in Buddhism, starting with a display of selected female goddesses, such as Prajnaparamita (the Goddess of Wisdom), the beloved Tara, and dynamic, independent goddesses. The second part, ‘Wisdom and Compassion', will look firstly at the five Jina Buddhas and their consorts, together with mandalas containing them, before concluding with powerful sculptures and paintings depicting father-mother union, when the goddess Prajna (wisdom) is depicted united in an inseparable embrace with her male partner Upaya (means), the couple symbolising the ultimate non-duality of all existence.


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