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Museum Curators Build Trust to Host First Myanmar Art in U.S.

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Wall hanging depicting the Vessantara Jataka (Wethandaya Zat)
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

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.

Parinibbana - Kubyauknge Temple, Myinkaba Village Pagan Period, ca 1198
Parinibbana - Kubyauknge Temple, Myinkaba Village Pagan Period, ca 1198 Sandstone with pigment.Charise Frazier for NBC News / Bagan Archaeological Museum
Buddhist Shrine - Second half of the 19th century
Buddhist Shrine - Second half of the 19th century Wood, Metal, lacquer, gold leaf and mirror glass inlayCharise Frazier for NBC News / Asian Art Museum: Gift from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation's Southeast Asian Art Collection, 2006.27.1
Buddha seated in dharmacakra mudra - Pagan period, 11th century
Buddha seated in dharmacakra mudra - Pagan period, 11th century SandstoneCharise Frazier for NBC News / Bagan Archaeological Museum
Cover for a food platter with episodes from Vidhura-pandita Jataka
Cover for a food platter with episodes from Vidhura-pandita Jataka Late 19th century Wood, lacquer, gold-leaf mirror, and colored glass inlayCharise Frazier for NBC News / Burma Art Collection at Northern Illinois University, Gift of Konrad and Sarah Bekker BC87.01.45
Wall hanging depicting the Vessantara Jataka (Wethandaya Zat)
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
Kinnara (male)
Kinnara (male) Konbaung Mandalay period (1857-85) Wood, lacquer, gold leaf, and glass inlayCharise Frazier for NBC News / Center for Burma Studies, Northern Illinois University, Gift of Konrad and Sarah Bekker BC87.01.01
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