Visions of Enlightenment: Buddhist Art at MOA

As Buddhism spread across Asia, symbols and sacred images developed to represent the Buddha and illuminate his teachings. These images offer the devotee and viewer both consistency in the forms of Buddhist art, and a vast array of subtle and obvious differences. The latter illuminate the variety of rituals, religious texts, and beliefs generated over time, culture, and geography. They offer a window into Buddhist philosophy, aesthetics and values, combining beauty and meaning.


Works of art in the exhibition focus on basic Buddhist concepts and images, and reflect the purpose of Buddhist art: why it is made, who made it, for whom, and how it is used; for example, in teaching, facilitating meditation, gaining merit, and for devotional purposes.


Exhibit content reflects the Three Treasures of Buddhism, that is the Buddha, the Dharma (Teaching), and the Sangha (Community). Also described is the role of the bodhisattva and expressions of Buddhist practice, such as obtaining merit and devotion. The exhibit will decode the meaning of representations in Buddhist art, such as hand gestures and the attributes associated with various images.


The objects on display illustrate the primary images found in Buddhist art, and offer viewers a varied visual experience, from an early 5th century Gandharan sculpture, to a Zen painting.


A range of media will be represented, including sculptures (made of stone, metal or lacquered wood) paintings, ceramics, manuscripts, and textiles. These will be drawn from MOA’s Asian collection, as well as from private lenders in British Columbia and from the collection of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.


Visions of Enlightenment will show examples of Buddhist art from the main Buddhist traditions: the Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana. In Vancouver, the latter traditions are well represented in the established Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Tibetan communities. The Theravada school represents the traditions of the Burmese, Thai and other Southeast Asian communities.

Exhibition Title

Visions of Enlightenment: Buddhist Art at MOA


May 10 - Oct 08, 2012


Paula Swart, Guest Curator. She teaches in the University of Victoria Continuing Studies Department, and has lectured on National Geographic Society expeditions to Asia. Additional curatorial advice is provided by Margo Palmer, current Director of the Canadian Society for Asian Arts. The Society promotes the arts and cultures of Asia through lectures, cultural events, exhibits, and educational programs. MOA Liaison curator is Dr. Carol E. Mayer, Curator Africa/Oceania. MOA Designer is Skooker Broome.