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Frist Center for the Visual Arts Opens Vishnu Hinduism’s Blue-Skinned Savior

The Frist Center for the Visual Arts presents Vishnu: Hinduism’s Blue-Skinned Savior on view Feb. 20–May 29, 2011.

Vishnu: Hinduism’s Blue-Skinned Savior will be the first major museum exhibition to focus on Vishnu—one of Hinduism’s three major deities. More than 170 paintings, sculptures, and ritual objects made in India between the fourth and twentieth centuries will provide a brief survey of Hindu art styles as well as an examination of Vishnu-worshipping traditions. Known as Hinduism’s gentle god, Vishnu is easily recognized in paintings because of his blue skin, a reflection of his calm, cool demeanor and his associations with sea and sky. An interesting figure in his primary form, the complexity of Vishnu’s character becomes clear when he assumes new forms, known as avatars, in order to save the earth from various dangers. Vishnu’s ten avatars, including Rama and Krishna, reveal the multiplicity of ways that one can envision and interact with the divine.

The exhibition will be accompanied by an illustrated catalog published by Mapin Publishing, an Indian art book publishing company.

Hinduism, the world’s third-largest religion, was first codified in India around 1000 BCE and has been practiced there since that time, perpetually absorbing new beliefs and approaches, while continuing to recognize the sanctity of older traditions. Each of the three primary Hindu deities—Vishnu the Preserver, Shiva the Destroyer, and Devi the Great Goddess—is believed by his worshippers to be responsible for creating and maintaining the cycle of life, and to be a portal to ultimate salvation. Some Hindus affiliate themselves with one of the three gods, while others worship more broadly. Those who worship Vishnu—an extremely large and diverse group—are known as Vaishnavas.

Vishnu: Hinduism’s Blue-Skinned Savior is organized by the Frist Center for the Visual Arts with Guest Curator Joan Cummins.

Image: Balarama Diverting the Course of the Yamuna River with his Plough, ca. 1740-1765. Opaque watercolor and gold on paper, 5 1/2 x 9 5/16 in. Brooklyn Museum, A. Augustus Healy Fund and the Frank L. Babbott Fund, 36.250.

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