Few of the millions of people who practice yoga understand its history or its mysterious origins, but an exhibition coming to the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery is sure to deliver some enlightenment.
Organized by Debra Diamond, associate curator of South and Southeast Asian art, “Yoga: The Art of Transformation” looks at yogic practices through 2,000 years’ worth of depictions, with ancient temple statuary, miniature paintings, and chakra charts, as well as films, books, and photographs from South Asia’s British-colonial period. Highlights include a fifth-century Indian tile portraying bony ascetics and a 1938 film of T. Krishnamacharya, the grandfather of modern yoga.
This is the first exhibition to study yoga as a visual metaphor spanning centuries, from its spiritual roots—found in Jain, Buddhist, Sufi, and Hindu traditions—to its current status as a global exercise technique.
With yoga studios popping up in cities throughout the United States, the Smithsonian decided to tap into the discipline’s popularity in a practical way. The museum collaborated with Yoga Journal and the Yoga Alliance to launch its “Together We’re One” campaign in May, raising more than $175,000—well over its $125,000 goal—on the crowdfunding website Razoo. That money supplements costs for shipping, publications, and public programming (including yoga classes) during the course of the show, which runs from October 19 to January 26. So don’t be surprised to see museum visitors engaged in downward dog and sun salutations in the coming months, hopefully bringing a degree of spiritual awareness to Washington, D.C.