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Exhibition to showcase South Asian cultures and religions


A fine selection of 150 items from the John and Berthe Ford Collection illustrating 2,000 years of South Asian cultures and religion will be on display at the Hong Kong Museum of Art from tomorrow (August 22) until November 2.

Entitled "Desire and Devotion: Art from India, Nepal and Tibet in the John and Berthe Ford Collection", the exhibition showcases the unique arts of India, Nepal and Tibet, including thankas, miniature paintings and sculptures in stone, bronze, wood and terracotta.

Speaking at today's (August 21) opening ceremony, the Acting Director of Leisure and Cultural Services, Miss Choi Suk-kuen, said the John and Berthe Ford Collection was one of the finest private collections of Indian and Himalayan art in the world.

"It is the result of a passionate four-decades-long engagement with the life and art of Southern Asia. Selected works have been displayed in international exhibitions, including the inaugural special exhibition at the Walters Art Museum, of Baltimore, Maryland, to which a portion of the John and Berthe Ford Collection will be given.

"The presentation of the exhibition in Hong Kong is especially meaningful as it marks the first time that the collection is being displayed in its entirety in an Asian city," said Miss Choi.

The 150 works of art, which date from the 3rd century BC to the 19th century, focus on the theme of "desire and devotion" to explore the relationship between earthly and sacred love in the Hindu and Buddhist art of India, Nepal and Tibet. Many of the works on view reflect the mingling of the yearnings and desires of everyday life with the emotions that motivate humankind to reach the spiritual heights.

Hinduism and Buddhism, two major religions of ancient India, stress the need for belief, devotion and spiritual cultivation to transcend mundane desires. Everyone from kings and queens to ordinary people contributed to the upkeep of those who took up the religious life, in the belief that it would win them safety, wealth and an enviable rebirth.

As they flourished, these two great religions spread to the adjacent regions and countries, giving rise to a multitude of traditions and sects. The stories of these religions also reveal a pluralism of desire and devotion which is reflected in different forms of art.

Take thankas, for example. They depict teachers illustrating the path, or lineage, of the transmission of the Buddhist faith. A lineage generally includes the historical patriarch of one of the Buddhist orders and the patriarch's predecessors, including figures both legendary and divine.

With the establishment of the Mughal empire in the 16th century, a new painting style combining traditional Persian styles with elements of European realism came into being. The Hindu courts of Rajasthan and the Himalayan foothills created the art of miniatures in reaction to these developments. They painted on paper with meticulous brush work, charming colors and delicate execution, and produced single leaves or bound volumes for the enjoyment of members of the court. The subject matter for these miniatures included secular and religious themes such as musical modes, historical episodes, court life, the arts of love and portraits, showing people's devotion to the imperial order as well as the desire for wealth, happiness and worldly pleasure.

The "Desire and Devotion" exhibition is presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and the Walters Art Museum and sponsored by the Friends of the Museum of Art.

To coincide with the exhibition, a series of story-telling sessions, acoustic guide services and guided tours will be organised.

John Ford will deliver a lecture entitled "A Forty Year Passion for the Arts of South Asia" at the Lecture Hall of the Museum of Art this Saturday (August 23) from 2.30pm to 4pm. He will introduce his rich collection to the audience and share anecdotes about purchasing South Asian art all over the world. The lecture will be conducted in English. Admission is free and 150 seats are available on a first-come-first-served basis.

A fully illustrated catalogue in English published by the Walters Art Museum will be on sale at the Museum bookshop. An education corner will also be provided in the gallery to enhance visitors' understanding of the background and significance of the arts of the Indian subcontinent.

The Museum of Art is located at 10 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. It is open from 10am to 6pm daily and is closed on Thursdays (except public holidays). Admission for the "Desire and Devotion" Exhibition is $20; a half-price concession applies to full-time students, senior citizens and people with disabilities. There will be no free admission on Wednesdays.

For enquiries, call 2721 0116 or visit the Museum of Art's website at

End/Thursday, August 21, 2003

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