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date: 03 December 2022

Art, Architecture, and National Memory-Makinglocked

Art, Architecture, and National Memory-Makinglocked

  • Maurizio PeleggiMaurizio PeleggiNational University of Singapore

Summary

Works of Buddhist art and architecture, in addition to having cultic use and artistic value, also enjoy prominence in the national heritage of several Asian countries regardless of the following Buddhism presently enjoys in each. While rooted in the millenary process of the formation of national cultures, this prominence is more immediately the outcome of archaeological investigations, architectural restorations, and museum collections that were initiated in the late 19th century by colonial officials, and royal commissioners in independent Siam and Japan, and continued by postcolonial governments, often with international support. The examination of Buddhist art and architecture as vehicles of national memory-making can be framed conceptually by the dialectical tension between their cult value as continuing foci of devotion and their exhibition value as evidence of cultural achievement. Four aspects of this productive tension are emphasized: the foundational tension in Buddhism between the doctrine of impermanence and the cult of relics; the tension between Buddhist monuments as elements of the diffuse sacred landscape and, conversely, of individual countries’ historical landscape; the tension between the place and reception of buddha images in the temple and, instead, in the museum; and finally, the tension between the traditional pious care for Buddhist monuments and their modern, scientific conservation. Owing to these productive tensions, works of Buddhist art and architecture continue to generate spiritual, cultural, and social meanings—in particular identitarian and mnemonic associations—even though in multiethnic and multireligious societies, these meanings are not uncontested.

Subjects

  • Buddhism

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