‘Sacred Realm: Blessings And Good Fortune Across Asia’

Detail of Barong mask by Ida Bagus Anom Suryawan (2015), Bali, Indonesia. Photo by Blair Clark
MIFA News:
SANTA FE — Santa Fe is the perfect city for the soon-to-open exhibition Sacred Realm: Blessings and Good Fortune across Asia. 
The City of Holy Faith could just as easily be called the City of Many Faiths. From the Natives who considered it a spiritually abundant place, to the Catholics arriving here before the Pilgrim’s, to today’s large communities of Sikhs, Buddhists, and New Age practitioners.
Sacred Realm runs from Feb. 28, through March 19, 2017 at the Museum of International Folk Art on Museum Hill in Santa Fe.
Sacred Realm highlights the museum’s own wide-ranging Asian collection exploring such beliefs as magical protection, blessings, and good fortune. What this exhibition presents are interesting similarities within the many countries and regions making up Asia. At best Asia is a construct; for what we think of as one “Asia” is in fact comprised of more than 50 countries, thousands of ethnic groups, more than ten language families (encompassing two thousand plus spoken languages), and is the birthplace to such “world religions” as Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam as well as many local religions. And Santa Fe is both microcosm and mirror for a similar diversity of belief systems.
Sacred Realm shows the dynamic ways people communicate their ideas of the supernatural, divine, or sacred world (such as God, deities, nature spirits, or other kinds of unseen forces). Almost universally, yet through varied means and belief systems, people have found ways to connect with these powers to bring stability to their lives, to divert ill-will and harm, and to attract love, fertility, prosperity, longevity, and safety – essentially, to harness protection, blessings, and good fortune for themselves, their loved ones, and their communities. 
Exhibition curator Felicia Katz-Harris explains that, “Oftentimes, when Asian art is exhibited as a survey of a museum’s collection, it is presented either geographically or chronologically. This exhibit is unique in that it is presented thematically. In this way, we see the commonalities across Asian cultures and religions.”  
Sacred Realm features amulets, votive offerings, and ritual objects imbued with other-worldly, divine qualities. Whether used in sacred dance, to pray or help individuals show gratitude or ask for specific favors, to interact with ancestors and deities, or to ward off evil and attract positivity, these objects are means to similar ends.
Katz-Harris notes, “The exhibit reflects wide-ranging practices of belief that, at the same time, depict the common human desire to attain balance and harmony in the physical and spiritual realms of life.”
Among diverse Asian cultures similarities can be found in objects’ functions as well as in their appearance. Box or tube shaped amulets containing sacred scripture or images are seen from the Mediterranean to Southeast Asia. Magical squares – geometric designs containing esoteric numerical formulas or acronyms are found in Hindu, Jewish, Islamic, and Buddhist amulets.
Magical squares are also seen as tattoos throughout South and Southeast Asia, and even in parts of the Middle East – embedding the magic into the physical body for protection. Engaging interactive software will allow visitors to learn about these and tattoos and to share their own tattoos and meanings with the community. 
Appropriately for this exhibition, the museum’s exhibit team worked with a certified Feng Shui designer to spiritually balance the gallery, incorporating basic principles of color and object placement to aid the gallery’s harmony and flow. In selecting and interpreting objects from the Museum’s collection, the exhibition team worked with a Balinese Hindu Brahmin, a Tibetan Rinpoche, a Tibetan Lama, Thai Buddhist monks and spiritual masters, an Islamic Cultural Center, scholars of Asian religion, and three local Jewish Rabbis.   
Audiences will enjoy engaging in-gallery activities such as making amulets and creating offerings. The museum is planning programs throughout the run of the exhibit including dance and music performances, lectures, demonstrations, special art workshops, and more.
Exhibition Opening Day Events
From 1 to 4 p.m., there will be activities for the entire family and from 2 to 4 p.m. the Women’s Board of the Museum of New Mexico will host a reception.
1 p.m.
  • Opening remarks by exhibition curator Felicia Katz-Harris (MOIFA’s Senior Curator, Asian Art)
1 to 4 p.m.
  • Make a Khamsas, an amulet/good luck charm in the form of a decorated and stylized hand and Ema, small decorated wooden plaques like the one’s Japanese Shinto worshippers write their prayers or wishes on.
  • Gamelan Encantada will perform Javanese Temple Music
  • Henna artists will paint blessings on your hand
2 p.m. and again at 3 p.m.
  • Quang Minh Lion Dancers
3 p.m.
  • Trupti PanickorTravedi will perform Bharatanatyam-style traditional Indian dance and the Potala Dance Troupe will perform traditional Tibetan dance and song.