The Buddhist Heritage of Pakistan: Art of Gandhara @ Asia Society Museum, NY

Asia Society Museum in NY presents an exhibition of spectacular Buddhist sculptures, architectural reliefs and works of gold and bronze from the Gandhara region of Pakistan, most never exhibited before in the United States.

The Buddhist Heritage of Pakistan: Art of Gandhara reveals the complex cultural influences — from Scytho-Parthian to Greco-Roman traditions — that fed the extraordinary artistic production of this region from the first century B.C.E. through fifth century C.E.
At its height, Gandhara — whose center was situated in present-day Peshawar in northwest Pakistan — encompassed Bamiyan in Afghanistan, Bactria, the Hindu Kush, and the Punjab region of northwest India.

Buddhism and Buddhist art flourished in the region between the second and fourth centuries C.E. under Kushan rule. The Kushans were a people from the East Asian steppes who invaded Bactria and then conquered the northwest of India and what is today Pakistan. While they were not initially followers of Buddhism, their second-century king, Kanishka, is considered one of history’s greatest imperial patrons and supporters of Buddhism. For centuries after the decline of the Kushans, Gandhara remained a stronghold of Buddhism. Gandhara was also a region of major importance for the development of images of the Buddha and his life, as well as for its novel concept of bodhisattvas, which eventually became an essential component of the Mahayana Buddhist tradition that spread to East Asia.

The exhibition is organized into three thematic sections. ―Classical Connections examines early connections with the classical world and associated imagery, in contrast to that of Indian Buddhist art. The influence of Greco-Roman culture in the region began with its conquest by Alexander the Great, although the Indo-Greeks who occupied Gandhara around 180 B.C.E. were responsible for the western, Hellenistic influence evident in early Gandharan works. Motifs from Greek mythology and western architectural elements such as Corinthian capitals can be identified in the works on view
Narratives and Architectural Context‖ examines the combination of local characteristics with elementsderived from both Indian and western precedents that is expressed in Gandharan architecture. For example, the exhibition considers a unique type of stupa developed in Gandharan art that is characterized by an elevated drum resting on a square podium. This section also includes narrative reliefs depicting scenes from the life of the historical Buddha that adorned stupas and other
architectural settings. These narratives show how artists from Gandhara highlighted the linear unfolding of events in scenes from the Buddha’s life, in contrast to the conflated depictions favored by North Indian artists.

A third section of the exhibition, ―Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, explores the diverse visual imagery of
Buddhas and bodhisattvas in Gandhara and how this relates to the multi-faceted nature of Buddhism in the region. A highlight of the exhibition, the so-called Mohammed Nari stele, is included in this section. This visually stunning and complex stone carving presents a grand vision of a Buddha within his realm of influence.

The majority of works in the exhibition are on loan from the National Museum in Karachi and Central Museum in Lahore. Comparative works are included from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Asia Society Museum, and private collections.