Yoga: The Art of Transformation

Saida Santana

The history of Yoga, its benefits and transformational power are better described through a Museum exhibition.

In recent times, the Western world has embraced the benefits of yoga, the ancient Indian discipline that seeks to find a balance between mind, body and soul. The practice of yoga is becoming more popular both in outdoor parks as in academies and specialized centers, and testimonies about its benefits are also more evident. Yoga has ceased to be something exotic or far-fetched to become an everyday experience for many of us. But do you really know the complexity behind the typical asana yoga posture, or its concentration techniques?

“Yoga is much more than what you know,” says Debra Diamond, an expert on Asian art and curator of an exciting exhibition on view at two of the galleries in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC.

For the first time, an exhibition traces the visual history of this centuries-old practice. Yoga: The Art of Transformation runs through January 26, 2014 in the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the Freer Art Gallery. “This exhibition explores the ancient roots of yoga and how people have tried to master the body and spirit for thousands of years,” said Julian Raby, director of both galleries at the Smithsonian.

In recent times, the Western world has embraced the benefits of yoga, the ancient Indian discipline that seeks to find a balance between mind, body and soul.

The aim of the show is to explore the rich diversity found in yoga and its historical transformations during the last 2000 years. “Thanks to new analyses of rarely seen works and well known masterpieces, today we are able to shed light on the practices that developed over time, from the ancient origins of yoga to its modern revival in India, which paved the way for today’s global phenomenon, “says Raby.

The exhibit allows visitors to study sculptures, which depict yogis, teachers and spiritual guides of Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as Islamic and Hindu manuscripts, icons, temple sculptures, paintings, photographs, posters and books. The display also includes films and artwork related to the subject, on loan from more than 25 museums and private collections in India, Europe and the United States.

Among the samples that have aroused more curiosity are the approximately 133 works dating from the 3rd to the 20th centuries, an installation that presents, for the first time, three yogini goddesses from a 10th century Chola temple, 10 pages of the first compilation of asana from 1602, and a 1906 film by Thomas Alba Edison, Hindoo Fakir, the cinematic production from India.

Simultaneously, the galleries have scheduled an interdisciplinary symposium, titled Yoga and Visual Culture, the 90-minute interactive workshop Art in Context, which will enhance the visits with the practice of yoga and a popular festival, Diwali and the Art of Yoga.

The goals of this display are multifold: whether awakening to a new life of relaxation and contemplation, illumination of the mind, enrichment of the body, mind and spirit or only the pursuit of good health, the fact is that people today practice yoga for many different reasons. Now, thanks to this show, it will be easier to unravel the history of each asana and the mystery they evoke.  ■

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