Head of Vishnu

Thailand, possibly Wiang Sa area
7th-8th century
H. 16 3/4 in. (42.5 cm); 1979.62

Artist Comments

Shazia Sikander

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.