Shiva Nataraja (Lord of the Dance)

SACRED | Power

SACRED | Power

Gallery 262

The objects in this gallery were never intended for display in a museum. Nor were they considered “works of art” by their creators. Instead, most of them served as receptacles of sacred power, animated by rituals, belief systems, and their surroundings.

A bronze icon of Shiva and Parvati from south India occupies a darkened chamber, alluding to its former location within the central shrine of a Hindu temple, where devotees viewed it as an embodiment of the gods on earth. A Vodun figure, created in the West African country of Benin, stands in plain view on a podium, much like its original setting in a public courtyard, where it was believed to drive away evil and control the forces of gods, the ancestors, and the spirits. Three face vessels, made by slaves in South Carolina in the mid-19th century, were based on African ritual objects associated with conjure, or folk magic, in African American culture. An artist’s collected artifacts, lined up on an old mantel, suggest the power that personal associations and nostalgia can bestow on otherwise ordinary objects.

An empty case in the middle of the room invites viewers to contemplate the Native American tradition of forbidding the public viewing of sacred objects.

How does the accessibility of these objects within this gallery change our perception of them? Do they still have the power to change us?

Risha Lee, Jane Emison assistant curator of South and Southeast Asian Art