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Asia Society Opens Major Exhibition Of Buddhist Gandharan Art

The Buddhist Heritage of Pakistan: Art of Gandhara

The Asia Society Museum presents an exhibition of spectacular Buddhist sculptures, architectural reliefs works of gold and bronze from the Gandhara region of Pakistan, most never exhibited before in the United States. On view August 9–October 30, 2011.

These artworks show the rich artistic heritage of Gandhara as a geographical and historic region and as a particular style of art. The Buddhist Heritage of Pakistan: Art of Gandhara reveals the complex cultural influences—from Scytho-Parthian to Greco-Roman traditions—that fed the extraordinary artistic production of this region from the first century B.C.E. through the fifth century C.E.

“Against a backdrop of political turmoil and tensions in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, securing these loans has been an extraordinary achievement,” says Melissa Chiu, Asia Society Museum Director and Vice President, Global Art Programs. “We are extremely grateful to our colleagues at the Lahore Museum in Lahore and the National Museum of Pakistan in Karachi, and to countless individuals both in Pakistan and the U.S. for their efforts on behalf of the exhibition. Despite images of Pakistan as a place of violent extremism, the region has an ancient tradition of tolerance and pluralism as evidenced by the survival of these spectacular examples of Gandharan art. Through this exhibition, Asia Society aims to provide new contexts for looking at the arts and culture of Pakistan today, in keeping with our long history of programming about and engagement with the region and following our 2009 exhibition Hanging Fire: Contemporary Art from Pakistan.”

The Buddhist Heritage of Pakistan: Art of Gandhara is the first exhibition to bring works of Gandharan art from Pakistan to the United States since Asia Society’s groundbreaking exhibition of Gandharan sculpture in 1960. The majority of works in the exhibition are on loan from the National Museum in Karachi and the Lahore Museum in Lahore. In addition to loans from Pakistan, comparative works, both eastern and western, that illuminate the Greco-Roman and Scytho-Parthian influences on Gandharan art are included from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Asia Society Museum, and private collections in the United States. The display is organized by Adriana Proser, Asia Society Museum’s John H. Foster Curator for Traditional Asian Art.

At its height, Gandhara—whose center was situated in present-day Peshawar in northwest Pakistan—encompassed Bamiyan in Afghanistan, Bactria, the Hindu Kush, and the Punjab region of northwest India. The majority of Gandharan art known today is Buddhist in origin. Buddhism reached Gandhara as early as the third century B.C.E., and began to flourish in the first century C.E. as Silk Road trade and cross-cultural connections from the Mediterranean to China fostered its spread.

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