Sackler Gallery Announces Exhibition of the Visual History of Yoga

Opening Oct. 19 at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, “Yoga: The Art of Transformation”—the world’s first exhibi­tion about the discipline’s visual history—will reveal its rich and fascinating meanings, histories and evolution over the past 2,000 years.

“The Art of Transformation,” on view through Jan. 26, 2014, explores yoga’s goals and means of transforming body and consciousness, its profound philosophical foundations, its role within multiple religious and secular arenas and the roles that yogis played in society, from divinized teachers to militant ascetics.

Working with an interdisciplinary team of scholars, curator Debra Diamond assembled more than 120 objects from 25 museums and private collections in India, Europe and the United States, compiling one of the most remarkable surveys of Indian art.

Beloved masterpieces and popular art forms weave parallel stories of yoga’s goal of altering the body and its equally dramatic effects on public consciousness, both in India and abroad. They reveal the genius of artists who created the first visual representations of profound concepts such as “the form absolute” and “disembodied enlightenment” as well as more hidden histories—such as the roles of female yogis, the impact of tantra on yoga and the late 19th- and early 20th-century Indian teachers who laid the foundations for much of modern practice.

The exhibition features 90 stone and bronze temple sculptures, lushly illustrated manuscripts and intricate court paintings created from the third to the 19th century A.D. that illuminate yoga’s central tenets and more obscure traditions. Later 19th- and early 20th-century photographs, missionary postcards, magic posters, medical illustrations, iconographic manuals and early films chart the vilification of yoga in the colonial period and the subsequent emergence of the modern discipline in India.

Highlights include an installation that reunites for the first time three monumental stone yogini goddesses from a 10th century Chola temple, 10 folios from the first illustrated compilation of asanas (yogic postures) made for a Mughal emperor in 1602 and never before exhibited in the U.S. and a Thomas Edison film, Hindoo Fakir (1906), the first movie produced about India.

Following its Washington, D.C., debut, “The Art of Transformation” will travel to the San Francisco Asian Art Museum (Feb. 21–May 25, 2014) and the Cleveland Museum of Art (June 22–Sept. 7, 2014). Support for the exhibition is provided by the Art Mentor Foundation Lucerne and the Ebrahimi Family Foundation.

For more information about the Freer and Sackler galleries and their exhibitions, programs and other public events, visit

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