Pilgrimage and Faith: Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam, on view in the Harnett Museum of Art, from January 28 to May 20, 2011, highlights the shared pilgrimage traditions of three world religions—Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam. This exhibition explores how art vivifies and recreates the pilgrimage tradition. Featured are objects dating from the twelfth century to the present, which illuminate the commonalities and differences of the pilgrimage experience among the three faiths.
The exhibition features more than 75 historical objects, each associated with one of the three religions. Representative of the Buddhist faith are objects such as a gilt brass figure of the Bodhisattva of Wisdom from China’s Ming dynasty (1368-1644) and a 1977 white pilgrim’s robe with an inscription paying homage to Amida the Buddha, from the Shikoku pilgrimage in Japan. Objects associated with the Christian faith include a 14th-century French sculpture of the Virgin Mary holding the Christ Child, and a painted glass window border, circa 1200, from the Canterbury Cathedral in England. Associated with the Islamic faith are objects such as an Iranian tile from 1200-1250 inscribed with text from the Qur’an, and contemporary clothing, guide books, and prayer beads that would typically be utilized by pilgrims participating in the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. The conceptual unity of these diverse objects is the pilgrimage — journeys undertaken in order to be in the presence of the holy.
“The global scope of the exhibition and accompanying collection of essays moves beyond an East/West opposition or the limitations of these faiths, it addresses shared goals of personal development and communal solidarity as deep human needs.” says Virginia Raguin, Professor of Art History, College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, Massachusetts, and co-curator of the exhibition.
Pilgrimage and Faith presents a context for the ideas most often connected with the pilgrim’s quest for spiritual healing, atonement, enlightenment, and transformation. Through an examination of past and present religious cultural artifacts, art, and other ephemera, the pilgrim’s journey and significance is understood. The exhibition contains fine art objects mingled with mass-produced objects and personal acquisitions such as stones or soil from the holy place. These objects all share the same purpose: to make more tangible the ephemeral experience and enable the owner to strengthen his/her spiritual commitment.
The exhibition was organized by the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Gallery, College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, Massachusetts, the exhibition was funded in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and was curated by Dina Bangdel, Professor of Art History, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, and Virginia Raguin, Professor of Art History, College of the Holy Cross, with F. E. Peters, Professor Emeritus of Middle Eastern Studies and History, New York University, New York. Presented at the Joel and Lila Harnett Museum of Art, University of Richmond Museums, in association with the School of the Arts, Virginia Commonwealth University, the exhibition and programming are made possible in part with funding from the Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of the Arts, University of Richmond’s Cultural Affairs Committee, the Department of Religion, the Chaplaincy, and funds from the Louis S. Booth Arts Fund. An illustrated catalogue, published by Serindia Publications, Chicago, is available.
Objects featured in the exhibition are on loan from the Harvard University Art Museums, the Boston Public Library, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Newark Museum, the Loyola University Art Museum, College of the Holy Cross, Boston College, the Rubin Museum of Art, and several private collectors.