Yoga is a global phenomenon practiced by millions of people seeking spiritual insight or better health. Few, however, are aware of yoga’s rich diversity and historical transformations.
While many are aware of yoga’s origins in India, few may know about its philosophical underpinnings or its fascinating history over thousands of years.
A show at the Asian Art Museum titledYoga: The Art of Transformation goes beyond asanas and travels through history into how yoga has evolved into a global phenomenon through an exploration of its visual history.
“We are honored to serve as the only West Coast venue in presenting this historic exhibition, one of the most remarkable surveys of Indian art,” said Asian Art Museum director Jay Xu. “We hope that by illuminating aspects of yoga and its hidden histories to Bay Area audiences, visitors can take new perspectives to their present and future yoga practices.”
Renowned masterpieces of painting and sculpture as well as popular images weave parallel stories of yoga as an individual path and as a cultural force, both in India and abroad.
Featuring 90 stone and bronze sculptures, richly illustrated manuscripts, lavish court paintings, and other objects, the visitor can get a deeper understanding of what yoga is – beyond their daily practice.
Objects such as a 12-foot scroll of the chakra body and the earliest illustrated Yoga Vasishta illuminate central tenets of yogic practice and philosophy while other works shed light on yoga’s obscured histories and archetypes.
Later 19th and early 20th-century materials chart the vilification of yoga in the colonial period and the subsequent emergence of the modern discipline in India.
Exhibition highlights include an installation that reunites for the first time three monumental stone yogini goddesses from a 10th-century south Indian temple, 10 folios from the first illustrated compilation of asanas made for a Mughal emperor in 1602 and never before exhibited in the U.S. and a Thomas Edison film, Hindoo Fakir (1906), the first movie produced about India.
The exhibition catalog, “Yoga: The Art of Transformation,” is the first publication on the visual history of yoga and includes contributions by noted scholars Joseph Alter, Debra Diamond, Carl Ernst, James Mallinson, Sita Reddy, Tamara Sears, Mark Singleton and David Gordon White.
The Asian Art Museum is the only U.S. West Coast venue for this exhibition, and the show runs until May 25th 2014. Then it moves to the Cleveland Museum of Art where it will be open to the public from June 22nd – September 7th.