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Kumano, a video work by internationally renowned Japanese artist Mariko Mori (born 1967), was one of the first works in Mori’s oeuvre to explore religious iconography and belief systems, particularly Shintoism, Japan’s indigenous religion, and Buddhism, its adopted religion. The title refers to Kumano, visited by pilgrims for centuries as one of the most sacred sites in western Japan. The work, conceived in 1997 and completed in 1998, was inspired by Mori’s own visit to the site. The artist appears in the video as three different characters: a mysterious forest fairy, a shaman, and a floating angel. These are each iconic representations of other-worldly beings, and for the artist they also signify the past, the present, and the future respectively. In Kumano, these inhabitants of three separate temporal planes are united in a single realm.

The first part of this exhibition offers an opportunity to see seven exceptional Buddhist icons from various parts of Asia, selected from Asia Society’s Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection. Elegantly depicted in a variety of styles and materials, these images of gods and goddesses testify to the mutability of religious icons over space and time, and also illuminate the influence of historic images on contemporary art. The gallery space simulates a pilgrimage route in which these deities appear and lead us to Kumano, a recent addition to Asia Society Museum’s Contemporary Art Collection. Like Mori’s video, they attest to the perseverance of human faith and the constantly changing but lasting tradition of visualizing and aspiring toward a higher consciousness.

Miwako Tezuka, Associate Curator, Asia Society Museum

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