With “Medicines from Asia. The art of balance”, the Guimet Museum, in Paris, exposes the link between care and sacred

“Doctor taking the pulse of his patient, by Beato Felice (1832-1909).  Photograph taken from the album “Views and Costumes of Japan” (1877-1880).

The new president of the Guimet Museum, Yannick Lintz, announced as soon as she took office in November 2022: the establishment, which houses the largest collection of Asian art in Europe, must develop new strategies to welcome a public wider and younger than that of regulars. In particular by implementing devices allowing to break with the “passive” visit where one comes to admire works while reading labels.

The exhibition “Medicines from Asia. The art of balance”, illustrates this commitment, with its own title to attract, beyond art lovers, followers of yoga, acupuncture or meditation. From the first room, whose walls have been painted in saffron colour, the visitor is invited to “live a sensory experience” : projected in continuous flux, a flow of light envelops you, symbolizing the vital energies – the meridians – which circulate in the body and whose balance is the fundamental principle of oriental medicine. Further on, in a room in the shape of an alcove plunged into darkness where a statue of Buddha sits enthroned, you will be invited to a practice considered beneficial for your health, breath control through meditation.

But the Guimet Museum being an art establishment, it is mainly through paintings, sculptures, prints and precious objects, mostly from its collections, that the subject of the exhibition is approached. It highlights the major common principles on which the medical traditions of the three geographical and cultural areas are based, where care and the sacred are intimately linked.

bronze trident

In India above all, but also in China and Tibet, a whole pantheon of divinities is available to the sufferer to help him treat his skin diseases, his digestive problems, and even smallpox: Mariyammai, one of the most most important in India, is represented on a bronze trident of the Chola period (Xe century) ; another deity, Daka, hollow statuette in copper and gilded brass (Nepal, XVIe-XVIIe century) represented with its mouth open, swallowed the food of the sick to purify it before they consumed it.

Boiled, lacquered and painted cardboard acupuncture mannequin, China, 18th century.

A space designed as an apothecary with its medicine cabinet and jars filled with dried plants or animals, illustrates the different types of care practiced in oriental medicine, from acupuncture to massage and energy techniques (qi gong , tai chi, yoga).

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