David Henry Hwang
The three heads of
Buddha evoke another issue which interests me: how images are appropriated
by different peoples in order to reflect themselves and differing standards
of beauty. Note the almost Greek or Roman features of the Pakistani Buddha,
as opposed to the more Asian characteristics of those from Cambodia and
Indonesia. Which is the more "authentic" depiction of the great thinker?
Clearly, different peoples and generations have always reinterpreted images
and stories to suit their own needs.
The human face is
indeed one of the most powerful and unique visuals. Transcending time,
race, age, it remains the focus of our imagination, fed through our associations,
while reflecting the multitude of expressions within its form. It is the
most individual and yet 'hybrid' form at the same time.
While viewing the
heads, it is interesting to note the challenges of individual sculptors
to produce a human image of the Buddha as well as other gods and deities.
Viewing these faces, one realizes that the notion of time is ephemeral,
the "eternal absolute" being beyond time. The transcendental Buddhas,
the abstract aspects of buddhahood are all manifestations of the eternal
absolute. Together with bodhisattvas, Buddhas came to be the most commonly
represented divinities as Buddhism spread beyond the boundaries of India.
The interest in portraiture
during the Gandhara period is quite remarkable and also attests to the
cosmopolitan outlook of the Kushans. Gandharan style has also been referred
to as Greco-Buddhist, Indo-Hellenistic, Romano-Buddhist, and even Irano-Buddhist.
The Kushans controlled an extremely diverse empire with a wide range of
ethnic and cultural boundaries. Their awareness of cultural differences
is reflected in their art, which had distinct styles-the recognizably
hellenized image of Buddha and the more indianized images from Mathura.
Such hybridity so early in the evolution of cultural diversity attests
to the inherent nature of man to diversify. Akbar's period is another
great example of an intelligent hybridity, attesting again to the plural
history of the Indian subcontinent.
The question that
comes to mind is hybridity, how it has been viewed historically and academically,
especially in light of the (rather old and boring) confrontational model
of "center" and "periphery." Also worthy of focus is the ever present
aspect of "migration" and the creative works that come to be when several
cultures confront each other.