New ROM exhibits showcase Greek and Indian art
History, freedom and art are the ties that bind two seemingly diverse exhibitions that opened this week at the Royal Ontario Museum: the ancient Greek sculpture Kore 670 and the textile installations by Swapnaa Tamhane created in 2020, the “Mobile Palace”.
“The Kore 670 was torn to pieces 2,500 years ago by an invading force seeking to overthrow a fragile democracy,” said Victor Maligoudis, Consul General of Greece in Toronto. “She survived and travels today to carry the message that no force can ever subdue the spirit of free people.”
Similarly, the modern “mobile palace” and bazaar of Tamhane evoke liberation from colonial rule, placing the Indian people in charge of their own destiny.
Kore translates to young girl and Kore 670 is the elegant sculpture of a young girl, possibly 12 or 13 years old, created between 520 and 510 BCE, during the Archaic period. She was an offering to Athena, Greek goddess of wisdom, war and crafts, and daughter of Zeus. In ancient Greece, wealthy Athenian families paid to have korai carved in honor of Athena, the patroness of their city. They would place them on pedestals at the Acropolis, the city’s hilltop citadel that housed a temple dedicated to Athena.
“They looked like a forest dotting the temple, with other offerings,” said Paul Denis, assistant curator of Greek, Etruscan, Roman and Byzantine art and culture at the ROM.
Unfortunately, a conflict came to the city of the war goddess 30 years later. The Persians defeated Athens in 480 BCE and left the two temples of the Acropolis in ruins. When the site was later cleared of rubble, 14 korai, including 670 Kore, were buried together underground.
Almost 2,000 years later, in 1821, Greece gained independence and archaeologists began to flock to the country to search for its historical artifacts. In 1886, Greek archaeologist Panagiotis Kavvadias and his team, who scientifically excavated every inch of the ground in the Acropolis, discovered the 14 korai buried near the Erechtheum. The ruins of this “later” Temple of Athena (built 421-405 BCE) now stand on the Acropolis. At the time, the korai were in pieces, but their traditional bright colors shone.
Exposure to the air and elements since then has caused Kore 670’s colors to fade: her blue crown has turned grey-green, as have the blue flowers of her kiton, the draped robe she wears. Her hair still sports the red undercoat of what was once brown hair.
Ancient Greek sculptures weren’t considered complete, Denis said, until they were painted, a concept that should cause us to rethink our view of antiquities. As the 20th-century French novelist and statesman André Malraux observed, “Athens was never white, but its statues, devoid of color, conditioned the sensibility of Europe…the whole past has come down to us colorless”.
Faded or not, she’s gorgeous. His body, sculpted in marble from the Greek islands, seems ready to come to life. The waves of her hair flow down her back; the buttons on her sleeves apparently keep her kiton in place and the pleats of her dress drape elegantly over her body.
The loan of Kore 670 to the ROM by the Acropolis Museum is an honor that few nations can claim; it has previously only been exhibited at the Hermitage in Russia and in Shanghai. Her visit celebrates 80 years of trade between Canada and Greece and she will stay in Toronto until September 25. The ROM will return the favor by sending two ancient Greek vases from its collection to Athens for the summer.
Two stories up, textile installations by Swapnaa Tamhane, a Toronto artist now based in Montreal, pay a modern homage to the ancient art of textile printing using motifs drawn from 20th century postcolonial architecture. Upon entering the gallery, the visitor is immersed in a riot of color as printed cotton streamers float from the ceiling, hang like curtains and form a tent. They evoke the mobile palaces that the rulers used when visiting their kingdoms.
“It’s about architecture turned into ornament and cotton as a material that deals with colonization and decolonization,” said Tamhane, noting that cotton fabric was a staple in India long before the Britons only learned to make it cheaply during the Industrial Revolution, using picked cotton. by slaves in the Americas.
The architectural motifs, inspired by a 1950s Le Corbusier building in India, the home of the association of owners of the textile factory in Ahmedabad, were designed by Tamhane and brought to life by Indian artists: the blocks are hand crafted, hand printed on Indian cotton and hand printed. embroidered by a collective of women.
“By using machine-made cotton, she also demonstrates that the industrial and the handmade can co-exist,” said Deepali Dewan, Dan Mishra Curator of South Asian Art and Culture at the ROM. “The play of colors and light shows that we are all now welcome.”
Past and present, freedom and color come together in striking yet different ways in these two engaging exhibits. Do not miss them.
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