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Cleveland Museum of Art displaying exhibit on yoga

7/3/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Roger Durbin

“The Chakras of the Subtle Body,” folio four from the “Siddha Siddhanta Paddhati,” is on view in the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Yoga: The Art of Transformation.
Photo courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Art
CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) has a large, comprehensive and studious exhibition through Sept. 7 called Yoga: The Art of Transformation.

According to CMA officials, this display is the world’s first about the history of yoga told through visual images.

The display covers the origins of yogis and thoughts on its early philosophical and spiritual meanings from the fourth to fifth centuries BCE up to its entrance into the global arena and its identification with health and well-being.

As museum information will tell you, there are millions of people worldwide (including about 16 million in the United States) who actively practice yoga exercises and discipline. In fact, CMA has scheduled yoga practice sessions on Wednesday evenings outside the museum. For more information on that, visit the CMA website at www.clevelandart.org.

Yoga: The Art of Transformation contains over 130 objects in this exhibit. That’s sizable enough, but the number of information panels and descriptions of each of the works is considerable and makes this not only an ambitious undertaking, but suggests, as Caroline Guscott, communications manager for CMA, said, that you “need to pace yourself” when wandering through the several rooms dedicated to this topic.

There’s much to see and take in, enough that it can seem mind-boggling if you are unfamiliar with the subject.

The first galleries dedicated to these images from Indian art explore the beginnings of yoga as a means to endure suffering in the world. In the other several galleries, which are arranged thematically, viewers see how yoga and its practices changed throughout the centuries.

There is one room dedicated to the landscapes of yoga, for instance, in which several paintings show practitioners in various physical spaces — outdoors, in temples and the like. Another gallery takes on the topic of yoga in literary texts during the 16th through 18th centuries.

The images range from sculptural works of historical yogis, Mughal paintings of militant yogis (and the transformation of yoga into a quest for worldly power) and Islamic divination texts to 15-foot scrolls depicting the chakras (or energy centers of the body). It also includes 19th-century photography (usually showing men on beds of nails or in some of the more contortion-like postures that stronger practitioners can do) and a nine-panel video projected on the wall of one gallery showing Indian yogis doing their exercises (one of the most fascinating parts of the exhibit).

Interestingly, the image of a person in a full lotus position (seated with legs intertwined) looking as though in a meditative pose is an enduring one from the earliest of the 2,500 years devoted to the concept. For a period, even the gods were depicted as being masters of the discipline. One change over the years has been the medium used to present the full lotus image — from sculptural representations through photography and film.

The museum, located at 11150 East Blvd., is open Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays. Admission is free. For more information, visit www.clevelandart.org.


Roger Durbin is professor emeritus of bibliography at The University of Akron and an avid art enthusiast. To contact him, email r.durbin@sbcglobal.net.

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