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Theravada, or “The Way of the Elders,” is the school of Buddhism practiced today in Sri Lanka and much of Southeast Asia. Central to Theravada worship is the historic Buddha, Shakyamuni (circa fifth century BC). Shakyamuni was born after numerous rebirths, which are recounted in jatakas, or birth stories, the last ten of which are of paramount importance. These ten are depicted over and over on manuscript pages, textiles, and monastery walls.
The last of these popular stories is the one concerning the Buddha’s final life as Shakyamuni, the lifetime in which he reaches enlightenment. Works in this exhibition illustrate a range of media produced in Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand from the eighteenth century to the present. They represent the Buddha in a variety of forms, as figures in his previous births, as the Buddha with monks and lay worshippers, and as symbols, such as the Buddha’s footprints. Contemporary Southeast Asian artists continue to draw inspiration from traditional Buddhist imagery, as in a painting by the Thai artist Kamol Tassananchalee which will be on view as part of this exhibition.