Buddhist art: a reflection of history and politics

November 12, 2001

ANN ARBOR—A double-feature event on Nov. 17 sponsored by the University of Michigan’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies will showcase murals, wooden carvings and dance, all forms integral to the Buddhism of Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.

The first event is “Mural as Mirror: Reflections of History and Politics in Buddhist Art,” a conference that begins at 8 a.m. in the Michigan League‘s Hussey Room. Scholars from Southeast Asia as well as the West will examine issues including the mythologizing of local histories and stories, the body as a narrative device, the role of gold amulets in Buddhist practice, and interpretations of Buddhism as a modern scientific religion through discussion, slides and videotapes.

The second event features Cambodian dance performed by “Amatak,” a group of Cambodian dancers now living in the United States. The name, meaning “everlasting,” embodies the resilience of Cambodian traditional culture nearly eradicated during the reign of the Khmer Rouge.

After regaining power from the Khmer Rouge, many of Cambodia’s surviving artists returned to the capital of Phnom Penh to reclaim their cultural heritage. With governmental support, the opening of the Royal University of Fine Arts brought many of the surviving children of its former artists, dancers and musicians as its first students. Even those artists who had fled to refugee camps on the Thai border pieced together costumes, built makeshift stages, held classes and staged dance performances.

Most of the dancers who will perform Nov. 17 at 8 p.m. in East Hall (just north of Cava Java and Ulrich’s) were trained at the Royal University of Fine Arts and continue to perform and teach in the United States.

Both events are free and open to the public. More information is available on the Conference Web site at http://www.umich.edu/~iinet/cseas/events/mural/.

Center for Southeast Asian Studies“Mural as Mirror: Reflections of History and Politics in Buddhist Art,”http://www.umich.edu/~iinet/cseas/events/mural/