Museum Curators Build Trust to Host First Myanmar Art in U.S.
Wall hanging depicting the Vessantara Jataka (Wethandaya Zat)
LAte 10th-early 20th centruy
Velvet, cotton and flannel cloth, wool, sequins and metal wrapped threadCharise Frazier for NBC News / Burma Art collection at Northern Illinois University, Gift of Paul J. Bennett, BC90.4.275
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For the first time, a series of sacred art pieces from Myanmar will be displayed in the U.S. at New York's Asia Society Museum. Buddhist Art of Myanmar runs from February 10 through May 10 and showcases 70 pieces made from stone, bronze and lacquered wood, along with textiles, paintings and pieces used in rituals from the fifth through the twentieth century. Josette Sheeran, president and CEO of Asia Society says that the exhibit personifies an, "extraordinary moment in art and diplomacy."
Myanmar, also known as "Burma," has a lengthy history of colonization - the British controlled the country until 1948. It's one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world, and is home to many different faiths including Christianity, Hinduism and Islam. The exhibit is a "reflection of the extraordinary impact of Buddhism," said Kevin Rudd, president of the society's Policy Institute and the former prime minister of Australia. At 90 percent, Buddhists make up the largest portion of the population in Myanmar.
The Asia Society began commissioning work on the exhibit in 2012. Adriana Proser, the senior curator of traditional Asian art, says that she and her team first had to establish a sense of trust with officials in Myanmar, where years of concern over unreturned or stolen items remains strong.
Proser personally traveled overseas three times within the past year to maintain the bond. To her, it was worth it.
"I want people to see what an amazing, broad and deep tradition there is in Myanmar, " she said. "A lot of people like to think about cultures being these very focused isolated groups of people who develop their own culture in a little bubble, but the reality is that there have been other interactions that have gone on for centuries and I think this is an exhibition that illustrates that very well."
Between February and May, the Asia Society will also host events highlighting Myanmar's culture, policy, and achievements.