July 12, 2017

Milan, Lyon & London

**Click the following links to see my art historical posts on London, Milan, and Lyon

 

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June 17, 2017

A historical look at how the nouveau riche have justified their wealth through art patronage (part 4/4)

(For the introduction to this series, see here)

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Sadō, or ‘the way of tea’ is a nationally revered art form in Japan. Often translated as the Japanese ‘tea ceremony,’ many practitioners of sadō resent this interpretation because it implies a restrictive ritual of rules, which erodes one’s idea of the enjoyment that it provides. For the purposes of this post, however, such a translation does not undermine the pleasure of Japanese tea culture. Rather, it highlights the complex refinement inherent in sadō that makes it worthy of its status as an art in the first place. Warlords in medieval Japan understood this fact. During the Muromachi period (1336-1573), when imperial authority was weak and warriors wielded great governmental power, they sought to emulate such refinement by becoming practitioners and collectors of tea wares. In doing so, they added a cultured dimension to their personas as military conquerors, which lent an authority to their power that otherwise lacked in comparison to the royal rulers that preceded them. Seen on a macro scale, their desire to possess fine tea wares paralleled their desire for power. Such was the case during Japan’s Muromachi period, when warlords vied in battle as well as in wealth and culture.

Tea appreciation in Japan began in the ninth century, when the monk Eichū (743-816) returned to Japan with tea leaves from China, where he had been studying Buddhism for thirty years. He served them to Emperor Saga (786-842), who emulated certain aspects of China’s Tang culture at his court, including the practice of courtiers reciting poetry while drinking tea. However, at this point tea appreciation did not catch on. It was only during the twelfth century when tea culture truly began, brought into being by Eisai (1141-1215), a monk who established the Rinzai school of Zen/Chan Buddhism. Like Eichū, Eisai also brought tea back with him from China. The difference, however, is that Eisai extolled its medicinal value, and on this basis he served tea to the ruling military elite while also integrating it into the daily practices of his Zen teachings. Long before we had an understanding of caffeine, Eisai recommended that monks drink it to revive themselves when fatigued. A set of rules for handling tea, called sarei, was soon established, and the tea ceremony was born. These protocols blended well with the other practices of Zen Buddhism, which placed an emphasis on daily discipline, rigorous training, and the harmony of mind, body, and spirit. And because this attitude resonated deeply with the military class, who cherished the same orderly virtues, the tea ceremony also became treasured by the samurai elite.

To understand how these warlords used the tea ceremony and its wares for their political aims, we must follow a timeline of their conquests and domination. After the fall of the Kamakura shogunate in 1333, the country was thrown into a series of civil wars between various fiefdoms. This lasted until 1392 when the first Muromachi shōgun, Ashikaga Takauji (1305-1358), assumed power over the country. He and his descendants continued to have an affinity for the tea ceremony and its service by monks, and during this period, Japanese architecture became influenced by this predilection. The formal palace style of the Heian period gradually gave way to the shoin (study room) style, which incorporated elements of temple architecture such as tea ceremony rooms. Once an activity only fit to be held within temple walls, the tea ceremony came to be performed in these study rooms by menservants dressed as monks, who were called dōbōshū.

The Ashikaga family collected valuable tea wares as a result of this affinity, and when Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582) seized control of their lands, as well as their possessions, he inherited an impressive collection. By this time, trade with Europe was well established through Japan’s commercial relationship with Portugal, and it was in Nobunaga’s best interests to cultivate close ties with wealthy merchants from the trading port of Sakai, who controlled the import of military firearms from Portugal. To that end, he invited these townsmen to tea gatherings where he flaunted the tea utensils once owned by the Ashikaga clan. This was his tactful way of showing that their authority was now vested in him. Oftentimes, he would also give these utensils to generals who pleased him, thereby drawing a comparison between his high regard of them and the esteem with which he prized his tea wares.

Nobunaga’s successor, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-1598) perpetuated this political practice. After his ascent to power in 1582, he held three large tea gatherings within the first seven months as a way to secure political allegiances, at which he displayed Nobunaga’s collection of tea articles to remind his guests of who now had control of the country. When Hideyoshi was appointed regent in 1585 he travelled to court to thank the royal family, and as a token of his gratitude he served them tea himself. This was the first time that the tea ceremony was performed at court by a daimyō .

These conveyances of taste and enlightenment by warlords to the public poignantly illustrate the usefulness of sadō as a political tool. And while this appropriation constitutes only a minor point in the expansive breadth of manipulative tactics employed by Japanese military rulers to justify power in the minds of their subjects, it aptly explains how charmingly they could do it.

 

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May 27, 2017

Recap: Japan

**Click the following links to see my art historical recaps of Kyoto, Ise, and Tokyo!

 

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April 16, 2017

Recap: Indonesia

**Click the following link to see my art historical recap of Indonesia!

 

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March 22, 2017

Recap: Rajasthan

**Click the following links to see my art historical recaps of Udaipur, Ranakpur, and Jodhpur!

{Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur}

{Ranakpur Jain Temple}

{Ahar Cenotaphs, Udaipur}

{Jodhpur City}

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March 14, 2017

Recap: Delhi and Agra

**To see my art historical recap of Delhi and Agra for the Brooklyn Museum, click here!

{The ultimate expression of eternal love. Commissioned by Shah Jahan (1592-1666) as a mausoleum for his late wife, the Taj Mahal was built over 22 years and required over 20,000 artisans to decorate the white marble structure with intricate carving and inlaid semi-precious stones.}

{The Darwaza-e-rauza (Great Gate) directly faces the Taj Mahal and is architecturally reminiscent of the Mughal architecture of earlier rulers. Its archways mirror the Taj Mahal’s archways.}

{These marble inlay artisans have been using the same techniques as their ancestors did hundreds of years ago when they decorated the Taj Mahal. The formula for their secret glue is handed down only from son to son, making their craft rare even today. Although I couldn’t get ahold of their recipe, I managed to get a small tutorial on making inlay pieces!}

{This inlaid marble panel on the façade of the Taj Mahal exemplifies the floral motif style that is typical of Mughal decoration during the time of Shah Jahan. Such flowers are stemmed and characterised by their delicate lines and colourful petals or intricate carving.}

{Goodbye, Taj Mahal! Next stop: Rajasthan!}

 

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March 3, 2017

Scenes from February

  {Ascending a Mayan temple at sunset in Coba, Mexico}

With all the traveling that I’ve done this past month, February just flew by! And now I’m about to go to India tomorrow! As a recap, here are some photos from the last few weeks.

{At the Kusama exhibition in D.C.}

{Hiking to the Hollywood sign}

{Tulum, Mexico}

{After brunching in New York}

{Coba, Mexico}

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February 15, 2017

Packing list: Mexico

Soon I’ll be leaving for Tulum, Mexico! I can’t tell you how excited I am to 1.) go to Mexico (for the first time!), and 2.) escape the gloomy skies and slushy snow situation that is currently New York.

Below are what I’ll be bringing with me!

 

 

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January 23, 2017

Scenes from my last two weeks

{At the New Museum’s ‘Pixel Forest’}

So far 2017 has gone off to a very busy start! At the museum we’re preparing for the second rotation of “Infinite Blue,” and lately I’ve been doing a lot of writing in general. Some highlights include one of my best birthdays to date, hearing Madonna and Marilyn Minter’s discussion on feminism at my workplace, and re-connecting with long-distance friends for the first time this year.

{What I wish all my Sunday afternoons were like}

{Madonna and Marilyn Minter’s discussion on the eve of the presidential inauguration}

{Always up for a pastrami reuben at Katz’s}

{Found my new favourite restaurant in Chinatown}

{Just the birthday I wanted this year}

{late night pizza and beer after a long week}

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December 30, 2016

colour study: marine colours x vermillion

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