“The Visual Culture of Yoga”: A Presentation by Debra Diamond

Debra Diamond, Curator of South and Southeast Asian Art at the Smithsonian's Freer and Sackler Galleries

Debra Diamond, Curator of South and Southeast Asian Art at the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler Galleries

With roots in Hindu and Buddhist spiritual traditions, yoga is a practice designed to strengthen and relax the body and the mind. Yoga has not only helped those who aspire to greater mindfulness and physical health, but it has also inspired a rich visual tradition. On November 8, Debra Diamond, curator of South and Southeast Asian Art at the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler Galleries, and curator of the 2013-2014 exhibition Yoga: The Art of Transformation, will discuss its history across visual media, from sculpture to film, and across Hindu, Sufi, and early modern arenas of practice. Regarding her interest in developing a major exhibition focused on the visual expression of yoga, Diamond explains: “I was inspired to create the exhibition Yoga: The Art of Transformation for several reasons. First: Yoga has inspired some of the most extraordinary artworks ever made on the Indian subcontinent. Second: Often, the yoga contexts of these artworks was unknown in the present day; uncovering those hidden histories helps us better understand the works – and more importantly, better understand the rich and protean manifestations and meanings of yoga in history and across so many communities.” Describing some of what she has learned by studying yoga from the vantage point of the history of art, Diamond speaks to the variability of systems now understood to be standard, such as the seven chakras or the different perceptions of yogis. Perhaps most significant, however, is what Diamond has most come to admire in the visual interpretations of the practice of yoga over many centuries: “the genius of Indian artists who transformed profound concepts into material form.”

thumb:Chinese, "Jar (Guan)," 3000-2500 BC, painted ceramic. Gift of George and Elaine Keyes in honor of Barry Mills. Bowdoin College Museum of Art.