SOAS University of London

Brunei Gallery, SOAS University of London


A Major Exhibition of Asian Treasures from the Wellcome Library

13 October – 12 December 2004

Asia House and The Wellcome Trust present the first major exhibition on the subject of Asian well-being. ASIA: BODY MIND SPIRIT explores Asia's holistic approach to medicine which advocates a balanced relationship of body, mind and spirit.

Most of the two hundred objects on show are drawn from the celebrated oriental collections preserved in the Wellcome Library. The material includes exquisite manuscripts, rare acupuncture charts, early medical texts, and fascinating artefacts, paintings, prints and photographs from India, Tibet, China, Japan and many more Asian countries. Highlights include a real Chinese pharmacy complete with drawers of herbs, a reconstruction of a Tibetan chapel and a large commissioned artwork exploring the explosion of Eastern medicine onto the Western high street.

The exhibition is divided into five themes: Body in Balance, Living in Balance, Harmony with the Environment, Harmony with the World Beyond and Migrating Medicine.

Body in Balance concentrates on the great medical traditions of Asia and the importance of herbal medicine. This section will include valuable material from the Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist worlds. Exhibits include a Nepalese Ayurvedic painting of the human body depicting channels and organs annotated in Sanskrit, an unusual Korean scroll on acupuncture, and a dramatic Japanese block print, 1851, showing the first recorded use of anaesthesia in surgery.

Living in Balance shows how living in harmony within the wider physical, social and cultural sphere is crucial to maintaining a balanced lifestyle. The section looks at diet, exercise and examples of everyday activity. One dramatic example is a colourful Japanese woodcut by Kuniyoshi, 1853, depicting Hua T'o, the ancient Chinese surgeon, operating on the wounded arm of the war hero, Guan Yu, who is playing go to distract his attention from the pain.

Throughout Asia, there are strong traditional beliefs that people should live their lives in Harmony with the Environment, the third theme. Such an outlook has resulted in a cultivated sensitivity to nature and an awareness of the subtle energies pervading the landscape. This theme explores Asia's sacred sites and places of pilgrimage through 19th century images by David Roberts, Thomas and William Daniell and John Thomson. It also focuses on the ancient science of Feng Shui.

Harmony with the World Beyond begins with a section on the use of amulets to ward off misfortune and disease and the role that cosmology, astrology and astronomy play in relation to well-being. Objects displayed include an unusual Batak amulet to protect against poison and a folio from a rare 14th century Persian horoscope showing the influence of planets on health.

Spiritual practice is an integral part of all the great Asian medical traditions and much of this theme concentrates on the great religions. Outstanding pieces will be displayed such as a Burmese illustrated text on the life of the Buddha, a rare Jain text dated 1503 depicting Mahavira, founder of the Jain religion, and some unusual protective Tibetan banners portrayed in a recreation of a Tibetan chapel.

The final theme will focus on Migrating Medicine, the interchange of ideas between East and West, which have helped nurture and advance medical theories in both hemispheres. The exhibition culminates with a rich, vibrant work commissioned from London artist Chila Kumari Burman showing how images of Eastern complementary medicine have become a familiar part of the 21st century Western townscape.

Katriana Hazell, Cultural Director of Asia House said 'The exhibition "Asia: Body Mind Spirit" will show beautiful and rare examples of art throughout Asia from the lands of the Mediterranean in the west to those of the Pacific in the east. Asia House is delighted that we have received support from the Wellcome Trust to stage this exhibition and from the Heritage Lottery Fund to run an exciting and inclusive education programme.'

Other details can be found on the Wellcome Trust website.