Drawing Breath

Posted online: April 2016

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Balarama as the Eighth Avatar of Vishnu and Elder Brother of Krishna. Madhya Pradesh, India, 11th century. Sandstone. Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Gift of Wright S. Ludington.

Spirituality, history, mythology, and art merge and mingle in two new exhibitions at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. On April 17, the Museum debuts two exhibits: Lewis deSoto’s “Paranirvana (Self-Portrait)” and “Puja and Piety: Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist Art from the Indian Subcontinent.”

In deSoto’s solo show, the noted mixed-media artist presents his monumental sculpture Paranirvana (Self-Portrait). Inspired by the 12th-century Buddha at Gal Vihara in Sri Lanka, and conceived after the death of the artist’s father, the sculpture—a 26-foot-long inflatable reclining Buddha graced with the artist’s own features—represents a fascinating reflection on existence, loss, spirituality, and more. Reclined in the museum’s historic Ludington Court, the SBMA-commissioned sculpture “inhales” (inflates) each morning and “exhales” (deflates”) each night, in a symbolic representation of prana, or spiritual breath.

“Puja and Piety” celebrates the intimate relationship between aesthetic expression and the puja (devotional practice) of three major religions of the Indian subcontinent. The exhibition showcases more than 160 objects of diverse media from the past two millennia, exemplifying how devotional objects influence the beliefs, rituals, and existence of Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism. The exhibit’s accompanying catalog—which provides essays on each religious tradition, maps, a timeline, and a glossary—enhances the experience.

Celebrate the Museum’s 75th anniversary year by viewing “Paranirvana (Self-Portrait)” from April 17 through July 31 and “Puja and Piety” from April 17 through August 28. For more information, visit sbma.net. –Kelly Collins

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