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China Humanities Seminar featuring Anne Feng – Water Transformation: Buddhist Meditation and Pure Land Art in Tang China

January 30, 2023 @ 4:00 pm 5:30 pm

Speaker: Anne N. Feng, Assistant Professor of Chinese Art, Boston University

This paper investigates the relationship between Buddhist meditation and images in medieval China by reconsidering the development of Pure Land transformation tableaux in Dunhuang caves. Working against previous studies that treat the Sixteen Meditations as a linear step-by-step sequence in which the meditator focuses on a static visual object in each meditation, I argue that painters looked to phenomena described in the Meditation Sutra to explore new possibilities for the representation of material metamorphosis. Although the goal of the Sixteen Meditations is to achieve a vision of Amitābha Buddha and the Pure Land that emanates from his power, I show how medieval painters foregrounded the natural and supernatural transformations of water as the pivotal moment in the Sixteen Meditations. The Pure Land was understood as a realm that was aqueous, liquid, and mutable. By linking the depiction of the “Water Meditation” to a hitherto neglected aquatic imaginary in Buddhist cave complexes, I demonstrate how painters looked to the properties of water to choreograph mediational experience and expand conceptions of pictorial space.

Anne N. Feng is Assistant Professor of Chinese Art at Boston University. Her research interests include visual and material cultures of the Silk Road, theories of vision and meditation, and representations of the Western Pure Land. She is currently preparing a monograph Aqueous Visions: Water and Buddhist Art in Medieval China, which explores the impact of an aquatic imaginary on immersive architectural schemes of the Buddhist cave complex Dunhuang, in northwest China. Her writings are featured in Archives of Asian Art, Artibus Asiae, and the Journal of Silk Road Studies. Her work has been supported by the Luce/ACLS Early Career Fellowships in China Studies, the Fulbright-IIE Fellowship, the Franke Institute for the Humanities, etc.

Also available via Zoom. Register at: https://harvard.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJMudumrrzsqHdU6PbC3_KudgoXK1ccoBeUG


January 30, 2023
4:00 pm – 5:30 pm
Event Category:


Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies


Common Room, 2 Divinity Ave.

2 Divinity Ave.
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138 United States

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