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Talk / Lecture

Vital Matters: Curatorial Collectives—Jain Art in Los Angeles and Zürich

March 2, 2023 | 11:00AM - 12:15PM



Deputy director of the Museum Rietberg Johannes Beltz, co-founder of the Arihanta Institute Christopher Jain Miller, the Fowler’s senior curator of Latin American and Caribbean popular arts Patrick A. Polk, and assistant professor, department of religious studies, UC Davis Lynna Dhanani, will discuss two current exhibitions focused on the lived experience of Jain religious practices and ethical principles: Visualizing Devotion: Jain Embroidered Shrine Hangings at the Fowler Museum at UCLA and Being Jain: Art and Culture of an Indian Religion at Museum Rietberg in Zurich, Switzerland. Moderated by Amy Landau, director of education and interpretation at the Fowler Museum, this conversation will address how museum curators and educators have worked closely with local communities to understand the practice of religion in everyday life: in devotional, domestic, commercial, and community spaces. These contextualized viewpoints provide new insights that move beyond the more traditional “dates and doctrines” approach to museum presentations of religion.

This event is co-sponsored by the UCLA Center of India and South Asian Studies and the Center for the Study of Religion and generously supported by a grant from Lilly Endowment Inc.

Johannes Beltz is deputy director of Museum Rietberg in Zurich. He read theology, Indian studies, and religious studies at the Universities of Halle, Strasbourg, Paris, and Lausanne. From 1999 to 2002, he worked at the renowned South Asia Institute of the University of Heidelberg, before taking up a post at the Museum Rietberg, where he is now curator of the collection of Indian bronzes, sculptures, and textiles, as well as of the South East Asian collection. He has chaired the museum’s curatorial board since 2009, has been in charge of art education since 2015, and was appointed assistant director in 2016.

Christopher Jain Miller received his PhD in the study of religion from the University of California, Davis. He is a vice president of academic affairs; professor of Jain and Yoga studies; and co-founder at Arihanta Institute, an international online non-profit institution for Jain studies. He is the co-editor of Beacons of Dharma: Spiritual Exemplars for the Modern Age (Lexington 2020) and Embodying Transnational Yoga (Routledge, forthcoming).

Lynna Dhanani obtained her doctorate at Yale University and joined the Department of Religious Studies at the University of California, Davis in the Fall of 2020 as an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies. She is currently the Chair holder for the Mohini Jain Presidential Chair in Jain Studies. Her research explores the confluence of interreligious polemics, philosophical debate, devotional themes, and poetics in the Sanskrit hymns of the celebrated twelfth-century Svetambara Jain Hemacandra, court pandit to two Hindu kings of medieval Gujarat. Having dedicated herself to the study of multiple Indian religions for more than two decades, Lynna has a wide range of interests, including Jainism, Sanskrit and Prakrit language and literature, medieval Indian alchemical traditions, yoga and tantra, Indian devotional movements, Indian philosophy, and especially South Asian religious art.

Patrick A. Polk is senior curator of Latin American and Caribbean popular arts at the Fowler Museum and a lecturer in UCLA’s study of religion program. His research interests include material religion and visual piety, religion and healing, popular religion in North and Latin America, and African diasporic sacred arts. He has curated such Fowler exhibitions as Botánica Los Angeles: Latino Popular Religious Art in the City of Angels; Sinful Saints and Saintly Sinners at the Margins of the Americas; and Axé Bahia: The Power of Art in an Afro-Brazilian Metropolis.

Amy Landau is director of education and interpretation at the Fowler Museum, where she oversees programs, educational initiatives, and gallery interpretation, and co-leads the Fowler initiative “Engaging Lived Religion in the 21st Century Museum.” She is also director of Museum Co-Lab at Morgan State University, where she founded a museum studies initiative in 2018. Landau previously served as director of curatorial affairs and curator of Islamic and South & Southeast Asian art at the Walters Art Museum (2009–18). In 2017, Landau was a fellow at the Center for Curatorial Leadership. She publishes on the arts of early modern Iran and museum interpretation.

Vital Matters
Vital Matters public programs explore objects that arouse devotion, awe, or serenity; mediate relationships between human and spiritual realms; and are of vital importance to the cultural heritage of individuals and communities. This series accompanies the new digital educational initiative Vital Matters: Stories of Belief—a platform for sharing different perspectives on devotional works at the Fowler Museum.

Photo: Todd Westphal

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