Lion, Lantern, Lotus Exhibit at University of Alberta Museums Highlights Student Work and Chinese-Buddhist History

The lion, the lantern, the lotus: Chinese and Buddhist symbols in the Mactaggart art collection, by the University of Alberta Museums, sheds light on the significance of the symbols of a 17th century robe that highlights the magnificence of Sino-Buddhist culture.

The exhibition is the work of summer student interns at the University of Alberta Museum and Graduate Research Assistants (GRAs) from the Mactaggart Art Collection. All artifacts obtained for this collection are from the Mactaggart Art Collection and were donated by Sandy and Cécile Mactaggart.

Jill Horbay, project manager and co-supervisor of student interns and GRAs who worked on the exhibit, also played a role in marketing the exhibit. She mentioned that the museums are proud to present this collection as part of the student experience that works with the museum.

U of A Museums Summer Intern Sung Eun Cho and Mactaggart Art Collection GRA Tejas Ambarani worked together tirelessly to make this exhibition a success. Museums trusted Cho to curate the exhibit, and she worked with Ambarani, who has a background in design, to put together this exhibit showing what museums have to offer.

The highlight of the exhibit is the embroidered silk Buddhist priest’s robe with exhibit labels explaining the symbols present.

Diving into some of the key ideas that can be identified by the piece, the dress was worn to indicate status and authority ⁠ – this is mentioned on the exhibit’s website. They also explore and explain the different symbols and ex-energy.

A common question for museum exhibits is the “what” and “why” of symbols and artifacts.

“[Cho and Ambarani] came back to all those conversations that [they]’ve had with people and … this is a really good opportunity to answer some of those questions,” Horbay said. “It gave the opportunity to or for people to answer questions that were answered within the framework of an exhibition. With this in mind, the question that was posed to Cho and Ambarani was how to show people viewing the exhibit the true meaning behind the pieces.

The reason they chose this collection was the unique use of clothing and the reflection of textile history.

“The robe itself is important because it has several special symbols found in both Buddhism and Chinese culture,” Horbay explained. “The other object we use in connection with this textile was a scene from the inspection roll of southern Peru so that you can actually see [what] they were like and how they were worn because it’s not like you imagine.

The inspection scroll from southern Peru was used to show how Buddhist monks could wear the robe. Horbay said the students were able to build on these concepts and understand how to visualize how dresses were worn. This is reflected in the presentation of the exhibition, with deliberate choices for the dress and its positioning.

To view the online exhibit offered by the U of A Museums website, click here!

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