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Buddhist art the focus of free events at U of T Scarborough and the ROM

A Buddha sculpture made out of pharmaceutical pills, Temple of Western Medicine by artist Zhan Wang, is among the provocative art and events in an upcoming conference. This image is featured in the Reincarnation exhibit at the Doris McCarthy Gallery.

The world of Buddhist art will be examined in depth through lectures and exhibitions as part of an interdisciplinary conference coming up at the University of Toronto Scarborough.

“The Tung Lin Kok Yuen Chinese Characters Conference: Visualizing and Performing Buddhist Worlds” will take place from November 2 to 4, bringing renowned Buddhist scholars and artists to Toronto for this pioneering event and conference. In connection with the conference, several special events are free and open to the public and are being held at the University of Toronto Scarborough campus and the Royal Ontario Museum.

The conference will examine historic and contemporary Buddhist art through the lenses of performance, ritual, and visual culture. It will explore how Buddhist worlds, broadly conceived, are produced through practices of and related to visualization.

“A growing number of people worldwide are expressing interest in Buddhist thought and culture,” says Professor Bill Bowen, Chair of the Humanities Department at the University of Toronto Scarborough. “Courses on Buddhist Studies that we offer at the university are attracting more and more students. The upcoming events are designed to enhance public knowledge of Buddhism and Buddhist art through lively public discussions and provocative exhibitions that help us to understand Buddhism today.”

The conference is the largest Buddhist Studies event to be organized by the University of Toronto Scarborough. It is made possible through a gift of $4 million to Buddhist Studies made by Tung Lin Kok Yuen Chinese Characters Hong Kong, a non-profit organization focused on raising and inspiring public interest in Buddhism. The gift, which was announced in 2006, is the biggest gift to the University of Toronto Scarborough in campus history. It supports the upcoming conference as well as scholarships, visiting professors and other activities.

Free public events are as follows:


4:30 p.m. – Artist’s talk and showing: Contemporary artist Will Kwan, recent Snider Fellowship Artist in Residence at U of T Scarborough, unveils and discusses his specially-commissioned work, The Reservoir. It is an installation of videos and photography described as a search for potential moments of transcendence amidst modern Buddhist art on Lantau Island, off the coast of urban Hong Kong. Room AA-304.

5:30 p.m. – Art exhibition opening: Reincarnation, an exhibition of contemporary artworks exploring Buddhist themes, opens at the Doris McCarthy Gallery, University of Toronto Scarborough (located on the upper floor of the Academic Resource Centre across from the bookstore). The Buddha image is no longer solely a symbol of one belief system, but rather a visual form that fosters questions rather than answers. This exhibition consists of paintings, sculptures, video installations and photography by artists from China, the United States, Tibet, and Korea. The exhibit demonstrates how Buddhist imagery has been adopted in contemporary art practice and how close it is to our daily life in the context of globalization. Visit the web site for the Doris McCarthy Gallery at

7:00 p.m. - Curator’s talk: Given by internationally renowned curator Zheng Shengtian, Managing Editor of Yishu - Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art, Curator of the 2004 Shanghai Biennale, Doris McCarthy Gallery, University of Toronto Scarborough. The curator discusses the works he brought together for the Reincarnation exhibit as part of a walking tour of the gallery.

8:00 p.m. – Opening lecture: Professor of Asian Art Eugene Wang (Harvard) discusses “Buddhist Art as Mental Theatre: How was Repentance Pictured in Medieval China?” This lecture will examine mural paintings from Dunhuang and explore what it means for a repentance ritual to be painted rather than enacted. University of Toronto Scarborough, Academic Resource Centre (ARC) lecture theatre. Room AC223.


6:30 p.m. – Closing lecture: Professor of Religious Studies Phyllis Granoff (Yale) will lecture on “Seeing and Believing: Changing Perceptions in Buddhist Visual Culture.” Despite the abundance of visual riches in Buddhist cultures, Granoff will discuss the paradox of a visual culture that constantly undermines people’s faith in the visual world. Eaton Theatre, Royal Ontario Museum, 100 Queen’s Park Crescent.

For more details about the conference and public events or for biographies on the speakers, visit:

by Mary Ann Gratton





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