Lecture series prepares way for Louvre Abu Dhabi shows

A presentation on 'Buddhist Art in India' continues the Talk Art series at Manarat Al Saadiyat that is setting the scene for the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

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There's a consensus nowadays on what a statue of the Buddha should look like. But Wednesday night's lecture, part of the Louvre Abu Dhabi Talking Art series at Manarat Al Saadiyat, will show that getting to this final image has taken thousands of years and influences.

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After last month's inaugural lecture, "Funerary Art, Architecture and Rituals in Pharaonic Egypt", the series continues with a broad look at the history of Buddhist art in India.

Two experts in the field lead the evening: Amina Taha Hussein-Okada, the chief curator at Musée Guimet, France's leading museum of Asiatic arts, and Vincent Lefèvre, the curator in charge of Asian arts at Agence France-Muséums.

Since its founding in India in the fifth century BC, Buddhism's incredible monuments and the sophisticated artistry inside its places of worship remain some of the greatest man-made marvels. "Buddhist Art in India" will attempt to show the chronology in the evolution of this rich artistic tradition, bringing in the relief works of temples, mural paintings, stupas (which house the relics of Buddhist saints) and also entire archaeological sites that play key roles in the formation of its history.

To offer a local context, Aisha Bilkhair, a Fulbright post-doctorate fellow at Harvard, will discuss the shared sense for harmonious coexistence and absorption of cultures that connects the way Buddhist art developed with the UAE region's own history.

"While the culture recognises the necessity of tribal values, as well as the poetry, literature and principles of the present system, it's also founded on the importance of talking with others," says Bilkhair, who has dedicated much of her academic career to researching the African diaspora in the Gulf.

Bilkhair is also an academic in the study of the UAE's music and the influences that shaped its style via the various groups that passed through the country over time.

"There was a fusion that took place in music and food, for instance, between the local population and those who came here to work."

Bilkhair will explain this concept in a lecture, making reference to some of the examples of how the UAE has accumulated various cultural influences. "In Emirati music, we can hear the African drum," she says. "These are traces of past experiences."

The Talking Art series has been designed to prepare audiences in the UAE for the sort of exhibitions that can be expected after the Louvre Abu Dhabi opens in 2013.

"The lectures reflect the universality of the museum," says Hend Mana Al Otaiba, the Tourism Development Investment and Company's cultural department representative. "A universal museum covers all centuries and eras, from early civilisations right through to the most recent. Through these exhibitions, you'll be able to see the dialogue that has taken place between these civilisations throughout history."

Louvre Abu Dhabi Talking Art series: 'Buddhist Art in India' is tonight at 6.45, Manarat Al Saadiyat. The event is free. Details at www.artsabudhabi.ae/en.

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