AAM Rama Epic Rama’s concerns for Sita EX2016.1.178_01: Rama’s concerns for Sita, page from Bhanudatta’s Rasamanjari, approx. 1720. India; Jammu and Kashmir state. Opaque watercolors on paper. Victoria and Albert Museum, IS.116-1960.


This fall, the Asian Art Museum presents The Rama Epic: Hero, Heroine, Ally, Foe, an exhibition of ancient and contemporary artwork and multimedia depicting sacred stories as old as the Bible, longer than the Odyssey, and a source of creative inspiration from India to Indonesia.

On view through Jan. 15, 2017, The Rama Epic — organized by the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco — is unprecedented in scale and scope, with 135 sculptures and paintings, masks, puppets, and examples of temple architecture. Objects and artworks originate from India, Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand and Indonesia, and are borrowed from museums across the U.S., U.K. and Europe. A Siliconeer feature. – #IndianCulture #San Francisco #Art #Siliconeer @Siliconeer @AsianArtMuseum #RamaEpic


Fresh Takes on an Ageless Tale

Through art, performance and masterful storytelling, a new exhibition at Asian Art Museum brings love, bravery, friendship and fiery battle to life.

Countless generations have grown up with this extraordinary tale, also known as the epic Ramayana (Rama’s Journey). By exploring the key characters of this beloved classic, the exhibition immerses visitors in the enduring appeal of Rama: the legendary prince; Sita: his long-suffering love; Hanuman: their faithful monkey lieutenant; and Ravana: the ten-headed king of the demons, whose abduction of Sita sets the drama in motion.

Artworks from 1,500 years ago to today reveal how depictions of these characters — as well as their regional variations — have evolved over the centuries, with rare temple sculptures and paintings made for 17th-century royal courts appearing alongside works by contemporary artists reinterpreting the story in innovative ways.

AAM Rama Epic demon king Ravana riding a mythical bird EX2010.18.2_01: The demon king Ravana riding a mythical bird, approx. 1800–1900. Indonesia; North Bali. Colors and gold on wood. Courtesy of Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Acquisition made possible by the Connoisseurs’ Council and the estate of K. Hart Smith, 2010.18.2. Photograph © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

AAM Rama Epic demon king Ravana riding a mythical bird EX2010.18.2_01: The demon king Ravana riding a mythical bird, approx. 1800–1900. Indonesia; North Bali. Colors and gold on wood. Courtesy of Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Acquisition made possible by the Connoisseurs’ Council and the estate of K. Hart Smith, 2010.18.2. Photograph © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

“This exhibition does more than introduce one of the world’s greatest adventure stories to new audiences. It’s about gaining fresh insight into its chief characters, the hero Rama, his heroine Sita, their ally Hanuman, and their foe Ravana,” says exhibition curator Forrest McGill. “We’ve organized our presentation around these figures so that each one can shine in a different light, bringing out the nuances in an ancient story that has continued to be retold in art and performance to emphasize new, relevant meanings. Its eternal — and vividly human — values of compassion, loyalty, duty and valor are values all audiences can connect to in their daily lives.”

Diverse artworks from across southern Asia outline key story arcs. Many of the unique works featured in the exhibition have never traveled before to America, and the Asian Art Museum is the only venue for visitors to experience The Rama Epic.

AAM Rama Epic Hanuman conversing, 1000–1100. India EX2016.1.100_01: Hanuman conversing, 1000–1100. India; Tamil Nadu state, Chola period (880–1279). Copper alloy. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Bequests of Mary Clarke Thompson, Fanny Shapiro, Susan Dwight Bliss, Isaac D. Fletcher, William Gedney Beatty, John L. Cadwalader and Kate Read Blacque, Gifts of Mrs. Samuel T. Peters, Ida H. Ogilvie, Samuel T. Peters and H.R. Bishop, F.C. Bishop and O.M. Bishop, Rogers, Seymour and Fletcher Funds, and other gifts, funds, and bequests from various donors, by exchange, 1982.220.9. Photograph © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, www.metmuseum.org.

AAM Rama Epic Hanuman conversing, 1000–1100. India EX2016.1.100_01: Hanuman conversing, 1000–1100. India; Tamil Nadu state, Chola period (880–1279). Copper alloy. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Bequests of Mary Clarke Thompson, Fanny Shapiro, Susan Dwight Bliss, Isaac D. Fletcher, William Gedney Beatty, John L. Cadwalader and Kate Read Blacque, Gifts of Mrs. Samuel T. Peters, Ida H. Ogilvie, Samuel T. Peters and H.R. Bishop, F.C. Bishop and O.M. Bishop, Rogers, Seymour and Fletcher Funds, and other gifts, funds, and bequests from various donors, by exchange, 1982.220.9. Photograph © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, www.metmuseum.org.

Each gallery focuses on one of the four main characters and explores their entire journey through the epic. A dazzling array of fine art is displayed alongside video excerpts of theatrical performances, TV miniseries, and other contemporary popular media, juxtaposing the diverse ways that Rama, Sita, Hanuman, and Ravana have appeared in various cultures at various times in history.

AAM Rama Epic Hanuman flies to the Himalayas from Mewar Ramayana EX2016.1.201_01: Hanuman flies to the Himalayas for magical herbs, page from the Mewar Ramayana, 1649–1653, by Sahibdin (Indian, active approx. 1625–1660). Opaque watercolors on paper. The British Library, Add. MS 15297(1) f.100r.

AAM Rama Epic Hanuman flies to the Himalayas from Mewar Ramayana EX2016.1.201_01: Hanuman flies to the Himalayas for magical herbs, page from the Mewar Ramayana, 1649–1653, by Sahibdin (Indian, active approx. 1625–1660). Opaque watercolors on paper. The British Library, Add. MS 15297(1) f.100r.

Highlights include:

Eight examples of the remarkably large and detailed paintings from the “Mewar Ramayana” as well as two of its Sanskrit text pages on loan from the British Library. Commissioned by a Hindu king, the chief artist of the set of paintings was Muslim. From the golden age of Indian court painting, it could be the most sumptuously illustrated version of the epic ever, with as many as 450 paintings originally made by teams of artists over the course of 1649-1653. Not to be missed from the Mewar is Mourning for the death of Ravana, a splendid painting showing Ravana’s many wives weeping over his body.

AAM Rama Epic Hanuman leaps across the ocean EX2016.1.150_01: Hanuman leaps across the ocean, folio from the small Guler Ramayana series, approx. 1720. India; Pahari region, Himachal Radesh. Pigments and gold on paper. Museum Rietberg Zurich, RVI 840. Photograph © Rainer Wolfsberger.

AAM Rama Epic Hanuman leaps across the ocean EX2016.1.150_01: Hanuman leaps across the ocean, folio from the small Guler Ramayana series, approx. 1720. India; Pahari region, Himachal Radesh. Pigments and gold on paper. Museum Rietberg Zurich, RVI 840. Photograph © Rainer Wolfsberger.

The glorious, three-tiered Theatrical mask of Ravana comes from the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., where it is the crowning glory of a set of royal gifts bestowed in honor of America’s 1876 centennial by the King of Siam (Thailand), whose father was so memorably depicted in The King and I. With nine heads (the tenth being the live dancer’s) stacked on top of one another, the work is a rare example of a gilded theatrical mask surviving for almost a 150 years, having escaped the wear-and-tear of the stage.

AAM Rama Epic Hanuman revives Rama EX2016.1.101_01: Hanuman revives Rama and Lakshmana with medicinal herbs, approx. 1790, by a workshop active in the generation after Nainsukh (Indian, 1710–1778). Ink and opaque watercolors on paper. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Cynthia Hazen Polsky, 1987.424.13.

AAM Rama Epic Hanuman revives Rama EX2016.1.101_01: Hanuman revives Rama and Lakshmana with medicinal herbs, approx. 1790, by a workshop active in the generation after Nainsukh (Indian, 1710–1778). Ink and opaque watercolors on paper. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Cynthia Hazen Polsky, 1987.424.13.

Hanuman conversing, a large bronze dated to 1000-1100, and borrowed from the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Holes in the base for dowels tell us that the statue would have once graced a temple in southern India where on festival occasions he would have been carried through the streets in religious processions, festooned with flowers and decked in jewels and rich textiles.

AAM Rama Epic Hanuman, Angada, and Jambavan climb Mount Mahendra EX2016.1.230_01: Hanuman, Angada, and Jambavan climb Mount Mahendra, approx. 1720. India; western Pahari region, Himachal Pradesh state. Opaque watercolors and gold on paper. Museum Rietberg Zurich, RVI 847. Photograph © Rainer Wolfsberger.

AAM Rama Epic Hanuman, Angada, and Jambavan climb Mount Mahendra EX2016.1.230_01: Hanuman, Angada, and Jambavan climb Mount Mahendra, approx. 1720. India; western Pahari region, Himachal Pradesh state. Opaque watercolors and gold on paper. Museum Rietberg Zurich, RVI 847. Photograph © Rainer Wolfsberger.

A lushly painted accordion manuscript from around 1870, depicting Scenes of the Rama epic, comes to us from the final years before the British conquest of Myanmar. Most likely made specially for the royal library in Mandalay and featuring detailed illustrations of Sita attired as a Burmese princess in glittering gold, the images appear without text, demonstrating that even in Buddhist countries the Ramayana permeated cultural contexts.

AAM Rama Epic ivory casket end panel EX2016.1.223_01: The invisible demon Indrajit fires arrows at Rama, Lakshmana, and their monkey allies, end panel from a casket, approx. 1500–1600. Sri Lanka. Ivory. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Friends of Indian Art and the Robert A. and Ruth W. Fisher Fund, 2004.16. Photograph © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. (Photo: Katherine Wetzel)

AAM Rama Epic ivory casket end panel EX2016.1.223_01: The invisible demon Indrajit fires arrows at Rama, Lakshmana, and their monkey allies, end panel from a casket, approx. 1500–1600. Sri Lanka. Ivory. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Friends of Indian Art and the Robert A. and Ruth W. Fisher Fund, 2004.16. Photograph © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. (Photo: Katherine Wetzel)

The Shadow puppet of Hanuman wooing Ravana’s niece Punnakay, part of a complete series of Cambodian puppets crafted in 1973 in the days before the genocidal wave of the Khmer Rouge wiped out a centuries-old artisanal tradition. Created by the last generation of local artisans trained in time-honored traditions, and now housed in Paris’s Musée national des arts asiatiques–Guimet, the perforated animal hide stands over four and half feet tall and illuminates how in Southeast Asia Hanuman is beloved as much as a Casanova as for his skills as a warrior, his cleverness and devotion.

AAM Rama Epic Jatayus attempts to prevent Ravana from abducting Sita EX1988.40_01: Jatayus, the heroic king of the vultures, attempts to prevent Ravana from abducting Sita, approx. 400–500. India; probably Uttar Pradesh state. Terracotta. Courtesy of Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Gift of the Connoisseurs’ Council, 1988.40. Photograph © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

AAM Rama Epic Jatayus attempts to prevent Ravana from abducting Sita EX1988.40_01: Jatayus, the heroic king of the vultures, attempts to prevent Ravana from abducting Sita, approx. 400–500. India; probably Uttar Pradesh state. Terracotta. Courtesy of Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Gift of the Connoisseurs’ Council, 1988.40. Photograph © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

The Rama Epic really connects you to these characters no matter who you are or what kind of art you enjoy,” says Asian Art Museum Director Jay Xu. “It’s why we also include artworks like the pastel portrait of Sita from 1893 by French symbolist Odilon Redon. Although from Europe, this work shows the creative resonance of the story among artists of the avant-garde no matter the time or place, highlighting it as an important cultural reference point not only in Asia, but around the world today.”

AAM Rama Epic Marichi tries to dissuade Ravana EX2016.1.110_01: The demon Marichi tries to dissuade Ravana, approx. 1780. India; Kangra, Himachal Pradesh state. Ink, opaque watercolors, silver, and gold on paper. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Cynthia Hazen Polsky, 1985.398.14.

AAM Rama Epic Marichi tries to dissuade Ravana EX2016.1.110_01: The demon Marichi tries to dissuade Ravana, approx. 1780. India; Kangra, Himachal Pradesh state. Ink, opaque watercolors, silver, and gold on paper. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Cynthia Hazen Polsky, 1985.398.14.

New art, performances, and multimedia bring Rama Epic to life.

AAM Rama Epic Rama kills the demon warrior Makaraksha EX1992.95_01: Rama kills the demon warrior Makaraksha in combat, from a manuscript of the Ramayana, approx. 1790. India; Himachal Pradesh state, former kingdom of Guler. Opaque watercolors on paper. Courtesy of Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Gift of Margaret Polak, 1992.95. Photograph © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

AAM Rama Epic Rama kills the demon warrior Makaraksha EX1992.95_01: Rama kills the demon warrior Makaraksha in combat, from a manuscript of the Ramayana, approx. 1790. India; Himachal Pradesh state, former kingdom of Guler. Opaque watercolors on paper. Courtesy of Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Gift of Margaret Polak, 1992.95. Photograph © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

During the exhibition, the museum will host a series of dance performances from India, Cambodia, and Indonesia, supplemented with the interpretive magic of live storytellers and in-gallery clips of performers from across southern Asia as well as television series which are cherished touchstones for hundreds of millions of Rama epic-enthusiasts around the globe.

AAM Rama Epic Rama refuses his brother Bharata’s entreaties to return EX2016.1.205_01: Rama refuses his brother Bharata’s entreaties to return, page from the Mewar Ramayana, 1649–1653, by Sahibdin (Indian, active approx. 1625–1660). Opaque watercolors on paper. The British Library, Add. 15296(1) f.126r. by the Connoisseurs’ Council and the estate of K. Hart Smith, 2010.18.2. Photograph © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

AAM Rama Epic Rama refuses his brother Bharata’s entreaties to return EX2016.1.205_01: Rama refuses his brother Bharata’s entreaties to return, page from the Mewar Ramayana, 1649–1653, by Sahibdin (Indian, active approx. 1625–1660). Opaque watercolors on paper. The British Library, Add. 15296(1) f.126r. by the Connoisseurs’ Council and the estate of K. Hart Smith, 2010.18.2. Photograph © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

Commissioned by the Asian Art Museum, acclaimed Indian documentary director Benoy Behl’s newest work, The Rama Epic Live, will be shown continuously. Behl’s sensitively observed film about performance traditions like dance and drama will allow both those familiar with the tale as well as newcomers to appreciate the Ramayana as it is interpreted around Asia. A longer version of the film will premiere at the museum on Saturday, Dec. 3 at 1:30PM.

AAM Rama Epic Ravana takes the field against Lakshmana and Hanuman EX2016.1.203_01: Ravana takes the field against Lakshmana and Hanuman, page from the Mewar Ramayana, 1649–1653, by Sahibdin (Indian, active approx. 1625–1660). Opaque watercolors on paper. The British Library, Add. 15297(1) f.60r. Photograph © The British Museum.

AAM Rama Epic Ravana takes the field against Lakshmana and Hanuman EX2016.1.203_01: Ravana takes the field against Lakshmana and Hanuman, page from the Mewar Ramayana, 1649–1653, by Sahibdin (Indian, active approx. 1625–1660). Opaque watercolors on paper. The British Library, Add. 15297(1) f.60r. Photograph © The British Museum.

An original 60-minute exhibition audio tour, conceived to feel like a serial radio play, immerses visitors in the plot by incorporating the voice work of four actors of South Asian heritage as the main characters. Carefully crafted dialogue based on the classical version of the tale by Valmiki will mix with musical effects to bring the whole world of the Ramayana to life. Available for download for FREE on the museum’s website.

AAM Rama Epic Scenes of the Rama epic, approx. 1870 EX2016.1.44_11: Myanmar (Burma). Manuscript; opaque watercolors and gold on paper. The British Library, Or. 14178.

AAM Rama Epic Scenes of the Rama epic, approx. 1870 EX2016.1.44_11: Myanmar (Burma). Manuscript; opaque watercolors and gold on paper. The British Library, Or. 14178.

Exhibition Organization

The Rama Epic: Hero, Heroine, Ally, Foe is organized by the Asian Art Museum.

AAM Rama Epic Sita in captivity in the Ashoka grove EX2016.1.72_01: Sita in captivity in the Ashoka grove, approx. 1725. India; Himachal Pradesh state, former kingdom of Guler. Colors and gold on paper. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of George P. Bickford, 1966.143. Photograph © The Cleveland Museum of Art.

AAM Rama Epic Sita in captivity in the Ashoka grove EX2016.1.72_01: Sita in captivity in the Ashoka grove, approx. 1725. India; Himachal Pradesh state, former kingdom of Guler. Colors and gold on paper. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of George P. Bickford, 1966.143. Photograph © The Cleveland Museum of Art.

Presentation at the Asian Art Museum is made possible with the generous support of Helen and Rajnikant Desai, The Akiko Yamazaki and Jerry Yang Fund for Excellence in Exhibitions and Presentations, Martha Sam Hertelendy, Vijay and Ram Shriram, Society for Asian Art, Meena Vashee, Kumar and Vijaya Malavalli, and Nordstrom. Media sponsor: India West.

AAM Rama Epic Sita in the forest grove from Shangri Ramayana EX2016.1.193_01: Sita in the forest grove (left); Rama and Lakshmana stricken (right); folio from the “Shangri” Ramayana, approx. 1700–1710. India; Bahu, Jammu and Kashmir. Opaque watercolors on paper. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Gift of The Walter Foundation, M.91.348.2.

AAM Rama Epic Sita in the forest grove from Shangri Ramayana EX2016.1.193_01: Sita in the forest grove (left); Rama and Lakshmana stricken (right); folio from the “Shangri” Ramayana, approx. 1700–1710. India; Bahu, Jammu and Kashmir. Opaque watercolors on paper. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Gift of The Walter Foundation, M.91.348.2.

Exhibition Publication

The Rama Epic: Hero, Heroine, Ally, Foe will be accompanied by a lavishly illustrated, 288-page publication produced by the Asian Art Museum and featuring essays by Forrest McGill, Pika Ghosh, Robert P. Goldman, Sally J. Sutherland Goldman, and Philip Lutgendorf, and with contributions by Qamar Adamjee, Jeffrey Durham, and Natasha Reichle. ($35 softcover, $50 hardcover). Major support of the exhibition publication is provided by Society for Art & Cultural Heritage of India.

ASIAN ART MUSEUM

Information: (415) 581-3500 or www.asianart.org
Location: 200 Larkin Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

AAM Rama Epic Sita EX2016.1.97_01: Sita, 1000–1100. India; Tamil Nadu state, Chola period (880–1279). Bronze. Linden-Museum Stuttgart , SA 33610L. Photograph © Linden-Museum Stuttgart. (Photo: A. Dryer)

AAM Rama Epic Sita EX2016.1.97_01: Sita, 1000–1100. India; Tamil Nadu state, Chola period (880–1279). Bronze. Linden-Museum Stuttgart , SA 33610L. Photograph © Linden-Museum Stuttgart. (Photo: A. Dryer)

AAM Rama Epic Vishvamitra leads Rama and Lakshmana to the forest EX2016.1.151_01: Vishvamitra leads Rama and Lakshmana to the forest, 1594. India; Agra, Uttar Pradesh state. Pigments and gold on paper. Museum Rietberg Zurich, Gift of the Rietberg Society, RVI 1840. Photograph © Rainer Wolfsberger.

AAM Rama Epic Vishvamitra leads Rama and Lakshmana to the forest EX2016.1.151_01: Vishvamitra leads Rama and Lakshmana to the forest, 1594. India; Agra, Uttar Pradesh state. Pigments and gold on paper. Museum Rietberg Zurich, Gift of the Rietberg Society, RVI 1840. Photograph © Rainer Wolfsberger.

AAM Rama Epic young Rama slays Tataka EX2016.1.220_01: The young Rama slays the demoness Tataka, approx. 1780–1785. India; Himachal Pradesh, former Kingdom of Kangra. Opaque watercolors and gold on paper. From the Collection of Gursharan S. and Elvira Sidhu.

AAM Rama Epic young Rama slays Tataka EX2016.1.220_01: The young Rama slays the demoness Tataka, approx. 1780–1785. India; Himachal Pradesh, former Kingdom of Kangra. Opaque watercolors and gold on paper. From the Collection of Gursharan S. and Elvira Sidhu.

The Asian Art Museum in San Francisco exterior. (Asian Art Museum)

The Asian Art Museum in San Francisco exterior. (Asian Art Museum)

“The Rama Epic” on display at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. (Asian Art Museum)

“The Rama Epic” on display at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. (Asian Art Museum)