Central to Himalayan religious beliefs is human transformation from negativity - nourished by ignorance, egotism and other personal demons - to spiritual liberation. Demonic Divine explores the ferocious deities believed to aid us in that journey, with over 50 works of art that span 600 years in one of Asia's most remote cultural enclaves. Tibetan-style hanging scrolls, an illuminated manuscript, ritual bronze sculptures and carved masks represent beings that have a protective and beneficent role in Tibetan Buddhism, as well as the region's native religion called Bon. Their dramatic color and writhing forms distinguish this region's religious art from the quiet elegance of Chinese and Japanese art.
Although Buddhism originated in northeast India, it incorporated local beliefs and customs as it spread across Asia. The "Diamond Path," or Vajrayana form of Buddhism, flourished in the forbidding highlands of Afghanistan, Kashmir, Nepal and Tibet. Whereas other schools of Buddhism teach that many lifetimes are required to achieve spiritual enlightenment, the Diamond Path promises exceptional means to achieve the goal within a single lifetime. These exceptional means include "wrathful" deities who, despite their fearsome appearance, have the power to bestow not only wealth and health, but also spiritual and emotional liberation.
In a culture accustomed to animated heroes with fantastic or grotesque appearances, visitors will immediately recognize the superhuman potential of these wide-eyed and muscular monsters. Many painted images appear on a black background with pulsating reds, whites and yellows underscoring the tremendous energy required to wage a holy war on all obstacles to enlightenment. The sculpted objects are armed with weapons and other powerful emblems that assist them in their conquest of spiritual ignorance, physical illness, misfortune, and even death.
While demonic in appearance, these deities aid the heart and mind in the transformation of the dark aspects of human nature. As such, they become metaphors for compassion - compassion that is neither passive nor gentle, but rather an affirmative, active and courageous force of change. This exhibition provides an opportunity to experience the rich and sophisticated concepts that form the foundation of Himalayan art.
This exhibition is organized by the Rubin Museum of Art, New York, and sponsored by Phoenix Art Museum's Asian Arts Council.
Left: Yama Dharmaraja with Buffalo Head, Destroyer of the King of Hell, Tibet, 17th –18th century. Metalwork, inset coral turquoise. Shelley and Donald Rubin Collection. Center: Kandroi Tsomo Chechang Mar, Red Wolf-headed Mistress of Dakinis, Tibet, 19th century. Mineral pigments on cloth. Shelley and Donald Rubin Collection. Right: Chakrasamvara With Six Hands and Vajrayogini Mandala (detail), Tibet c. 1500. Mineral pigments on cloth. Rubin Museum of Art.