Tag Archives: Royal Ontario Museum

ROM Space: Made for Us

ROM from the east on Bloor Street

The Royal Ontario Museum is about collections.  It’s about old stuff.  And if you ignore the second floor (with its taxidermy and dinosaurs), then you might be impressed like I am by how “human-centric” the collections are.

It’s all about us.  What we make, what we use, how we look.   It’s like a kind of tagging through the ages.  For instance, the glass cases in the Asian galleries contained Buddha and bodhisativas and demons and men of all kinds.  Even a few women.  And the purpose of the images?  To confirm the goodness in us, or to make a mark, a lasting impression?  He was there and because of this icon, the future will know him.

I’m overwhelmed by this impression in the Greek and Roman galleries.  Figure after human figure.  Marble heads.  We love looking at ourselves.  I’m just realizing it.  Our purpose seems to be us.  We worship the human form (okay, Islamists might not). There’s something about the human image and our drive to capture it.  Does a piece of the soul stay with the creation, as some cultures claim?  Perhaps it’s time to burn my self-portraits.

ROM, Egyptian Pre-dynastic. Two figures found in the mud and reconstructed. they are thought to represent grief.

In fact, I found two figures of women, very expressive, in the Egyptian gallery whose souls seemed to still be present.  They are dated as pre-dynasty, and were found in the mud of the Nile.  I love them for their gestures, so unfathomable after what, 4000 years?

It’s all about us.  What we collect, the stories we tell, the clothes we make, the tools we use, the we adorn our bodies.  We stand as individuals, as votives representing something, something that we in turn, love to look at.  I’m wondering what that might be.

Love,

Laura

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The Buddhist Boys

6 luohans on the first floor of the ROM, the Asian culture galleries.

I only went to Toronto for the day, and and only had a few hours to spend with the boys.  To make the most of the trip, I decided to get into a Buddhist frame of mind so that I might draw these fellows with more understanding.

My friends, Dan and Pam, recommended reading J. Macey’s Active Hope and I started it a few weeks ago.  Honestly,  it’s a tough read.  Over the weekend I listened to Pema Chodron’s Bodhisattva Mind.   From this small immersion, I got the message to stay in the present and be open.  Easy.

The boys are  a group of six monks carved in sandstone from the Song Dynasty (1000-1200 AD).  The religious term for them is luohan.  The ROM blurb didn’t explain much about them but from my bit of research, they were a kind of spiritual warrior for the Buddhist faith at a time when it was experiencing persecution in China.  These luohan continue a communion that started a millennium ago.  So cool.

The luohan aren’t boys, I discovered, but strong men in many senses.  Calmness is under appreciated in our culture.  As I drew them, I felt the power of it.  They were centred, unique, compassionate, yet there was muscle under the cloth.  These boys could walk, and sitting still, I imagine, wasn’t a passive activity for them either.

Luohan with a dragon at his foot, ROM.

What surprised me as I drew, was that I began to see monks through  the sculptor’s eyes.  Each man was a model to be cajoled into a pose and flattered into an attitude which would serve both personal vanity and the cause of  religious teachings.  The sculptor may have been a monk himself (sorry, have to assume “he”); he would have had to answer to an abbot of sorts, to the traditions of his craft and religion, if he could separate these.

From the dates, it’s likely that more than one sculptor would been involved in portraying this group, yet the style and details are incredibly consistent.  The stone blocks had their own grain and inclusions.  Not perfect or painted over.  So the execution was very important.  Imagine sanding the heads and faces, the lips and brows, so smoothly–polishing into the stone to bring out the flesh.  The tension between body and spirit.

I would date the Buddhist Boys at the ROM again, but will confess my crush may have shifted to the artists who created them.

Love,

Laura

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My Date with the Buddhist Boys at the ROM

While London is a culturally active city, Toronto has the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Royal Ontario Museum.

I find it’s worth taking the train to spend an entire day at either place.  The ROM is my target for this visit.  The last time I was there, I didn’t sketch much but wandered the endless collections until I felt the vertigo and had to get off the ride.

My mission this time has focus.  Find the Buddhist boys.

Baran Mong’s sketches from the Royal Ontario Museum, July 2011.

In the World Culture Asian galleries, there are a couple of collections of Buddhist statures.  whether standing tall or seated with a round belly, they are painted, gilded, jeweled.  Then there’s a group of what looks like plain, unembellished limestone monks.

Another artist, Baran Mong, has also found the boys and included one among his really spirited sketches.

My impression of them from my last trip was that they were very hungry souls, and that the artist had rounded out their faces, which to me, didn’t match the thinness of their bodies beneath the robes.  While the statues might have been commissioned as propaganda (I’ll try to find out more), the artist shows an exceptional compassion for his models.   Maybe even love.

What delights me is that they’re real men, young and quite frankly, thin and not so perfectly spiritual as The Buddha.  Imagine your meditation or yoga group carved in stone.  Then imagine sitting before the that group, each a singular expression captured in stone, and meditating on that — 500 to a 1000 years later.

Love,

Laura

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