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Lunar New Year Installation by Wu Jian’an: “Release the Buddhist Mantra”

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Met’s Department of Asian Art, Met museum held a grand festival, Lunar New Year Festival: Year of the Monkey on February 6, 2016, inviting performance artists, visual artists and cultural institutes to produce artist-led interactive gallery activities and special exhibitions for visitors of all states and ages.

A preeminent artist with remarkable creativity, Wu Jian’an, from Beijing, was stationed in Gallery 208, which presented one of the Met’s most important Asian art collections. He produced a collaborative installation called “Release the Buddhist mantra and free the Monkey King”. The activity he exclusively prepared for Met Lunar New Year Celebrates was related to the famouse Chinese classic Journey to the West.

“As we know, in the story of Chinese classical novel Journey to the West, the Monkey King Sun Wukong was imprisoned in a mountain (also known as the five pillar mountain) for 500 years. Due to the paper talisman written the mantra “Ong Ma Ni Bei Mi Hong”, Wukong could never escape, until Xuan Zang, a monk of the Tang Dynasty, released the talisman under the guidance of Avalokitesvara (guanyin), the Monkey King was finally free.

The five pillar mountain was a transformation of Buddha’s own hand, and many ancient Buddism Sculpture in Met museum are armless. Apart from the realistic reasons, are there any fantastic or implied relations in regard to this situation? So, I wish to invite as much audiences as I can on the event day to imagine and draw what the lost arms of ancient Buddhist sculptures would like. I will cut the arms of their drawings out, and reassemble them to the prepared mantra to form a new image on the spot. Whoever started the trouble should end it. With the help of the ‘Buddha’s arms’, the audience and I will make an artistic action of releasing the Buddhist mantra, and this willl be an intrsting way, in this special time and space, to interpreting and experience Chinese cultural classic, and welcome the Lunar New Year together.” –Wu Jian’an

There were many Buddha statues throughout neighboring galleries in the Met that had lost hands and arms due to time and travel. Visitors were directed to find one, and imagine what the missing limb might have looked like, what gesture he might be making, or how might the fabric have draped. They then drew this arm brought it to Wu Jian'an, who reassembled them to form a new image. Once 1000 arms were collected and added, a special Chinese New Year mantra was revealed!

-Sue Wang, CAFA Art Info


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