South Korea's Hoam Art Museum features works celebrating women in East Asian Buddhism

- through Henry Oudin

Published on


Immaculate, like a lotus in the mud, an exhibition opening in March and on view until June 16 at the Hoam Art Museum in South Korea, highlights the representation of women in centuries-old Buddhist art from Korea, China and Japan. The exhibition aims to highlight the often overlooked presence and contributions of women in East Asian Buddhist art, and features a number of masterpieces with the help of art institutions from around the world. whole world.

“(The exhibition) will highlight the presence of women in the patronage and production of Buddhist art, while exploring the significance of female images depicted in Buddhist art,” the museum said before the opening in March. (The Korean Herald)

The museum, located in the city of Yongin in South Korea's Gyeonggi province, will house 92 paintings, statues, scriptures and embroideries collected from 27 sources around the world. More than half of the objects have never been exhibited in South Korea and come from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the British Museum, the Tokyo National Museum and the National Museum of Korea.

Additionally, the exhibition will feature a 28-centimeter-tall gilded bronze standing statue of Avalokiteshvara, dating from the 18th century, dated to the Baekje Kingdom in Korea (660 BCE – 1929 CE). The sculpture was last exhibited in Korea in 2018, when it was sold to a collector and taken to Japan. The Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea attempted to repatriate the statue in 4,2, raising some 3,05 billion won ($15 million), but short of the seller's asking price of 10,9 billion won ($XNUMX .XNUMX million dollars).


In Buddhist texts and art, women often played a supporting role. Queen Maya is best known for giving birth to Siddhartha Gautama, Mahaprajapati for caring for him – she would later be the first woman ordained by the Buddha – and Yasodhara is remembered as his grieving wife and mother of his son, Rahula. Sujata, who offered food to the Buddha after her most intense fast, is today honored with a small village named after her near Bodh Gaya, India.

There is a set of texts devoted to the words of elderly women, the Therigatha, but these constitute only a small part of the early Buddhist corpus. In art, it is even rarer to find representations centered on women.

“In ancient Buddhist paintings, our attention is often drawn to the splendid figures of the Buddha and bodhisattvas, glittering with gold, exuding delicacy and dignity,” explained the exhibition's curator, Lee Seung-hye, during from a recent preview at the museum. “However, this show aims to highlight the presence of countless women beyond that golden glow. » (Korea time)


Scholars note that Mahaprajapati's ordination as a nun was a watershed moment for women in religion. However, Pali texts describe the Buddha hesitating when first asked to ordain women, and a number of additional rules were later laid down for them. As Buddhism spread throughout Asia, many notable women joined the sangha. However, they have repeatedly encountered difficulties in being treated equally with their male counterparts.

One of the most notable women in East Asian Buddhism is the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokitesvara. In early Buddhist history, Avalokitesvara appeared in a male form, but slowly took on a female appearance in East Asian depictions. Professor Cathryn Bailey, who teaches gender and women's studies at Western Michigan University, says:

. . . it's not even entirely correct to simply conclude that Kuan Yin was a man and is now a woman, as they continue to be depicted as both. To further complicate matters, they are often described as having an androgynous or “asexual” appearance. In short, although for many Kuan Yin is experienced simply as a woman, a glimpse into their story quickly explodes our familiar sex/gender categories. In short, they are a distinctly trans icon in the strangest sense of the word.

(Incarnate Philosophy)

Additionally, the new exhibition highlights the important role of women as patrons and artisans of Buddhist art. Women commissioned illustrated manuscripts, paintings and sculptures, thus contributing to the flourishing of Buddhist art despite societal constraints.

Notable patrons of Buddhist art included queens, consorts, and members of the royal court, even during periods when Buddhism was officially suppressed. Their patronage was often seen as an offering for the longevity of the king and for the birth of sons.

An unknown noblewoman from the Korean Goryeo period (918-1392) wrote on a manuscript she commissioned: “For the misfortunes of my past life, I was born again as a woman. . . . This is why, with the deepest sincerity, I sincerely wished to create a copy of the Avatamsaka Sutra written in silver and a copy of the Lotus Sutra written in gold. (Korea time)

The exhibition also features magnificent paintings commissioned by Queen Munjeong (1501-1565) of the Joseon Kingdom, as well as intricate textiles and embroidery created by anonymous artisans.

Overall, the exhibition offers a significant exploration of the legacy of women in Buddhist art, providing a visual feast for visitors to appreciate and celebrate.

Immaculate, like a lotus in the mud will take place at the Hoam Art Museum until June 16. A free shuttle service is available to transport visitors between Leeum Museum of Art Seoul and Hoam Art Museum.

See more

What to expect from the Korean art scene this year (The Korean Herald)
For the first time, an exhibition highlights the role of women in East Asian Buddhist art (Korea time)
How women played a vital role in Buddhist art, featured in a new landmark exhibition in South Korea (South China Morning Post)
Embracing the trans bodhisattva, Kuan Yin (embodied philosophy)

Related news reports from BDG

Korean monks welcome return of Buddhist relics after 85 years to US museum
Korean expert on hand-copied Buddhist texts visits Yale with extensive exhibit
The Rubin Museum of Art, known for showcasing Buddhist art and culture, will close its physical space this year
Freer and Sackler Galleries Launch Digital Catalog of Goryeo Buddhist Art
Goryeo Kingdom Exhibition in Seoul Celebrates Korea's Buddhist History

BDG Related Features

Daughters of the Buddha: Unmun-sa, a source of Bhikshuni Ordination in South Korea, part two
Daughters of the Buddha: Unmun-sa, a Source of Bhikshuni Ordination in South Korea, Part One
A journey of art and devotion to Tara with Dr. Sarika Singh and Master Locho
Guanyin and the Filial Parrot: An Emperor's Golden Offering
Convergence and harmony: on the schools of Chinese Buddhism
The Many Forms of Avalokiteshvara

The article South Korea's Hoam Art Museum showcases artwork celebrating women in East Asian Buddhism appeared first on Buddhadoor Global.

photo of author

Henry Oudin

Henry Oudin is a Buddhist scholar, spiritual adventurer and journalist. He is a passionate seeker of the depths of Buddhist wisdom, and travels regularly to learn more about Buddhism and spiritual cultures. By sharing his knowledge and life experiences on Buddhist News, Henry hopes to inspire others to embrace more spiritual and mindful ways of living.

Leave comments