A Vietnamese monk introduced the concept of Engaged Buddhism to American audiences in 1966, an era defined by movements of radical social change and protest. With its call for civic responsibility and social action to reduce suffering, Engaged Buddhism was one with the general zeitgeist. The questions that compel curator Haema Sivanesan are: what impact did Engaged Buddhism have on the creative community in North America and what influence does it continue to exert? Sivanesan will offer some answers in In the Present Moment: Buddhism, Contemporary Art and Social Practice, an exhibit slated for 2021. It will take a thematic and chronological approach from the 1950s to the present, and focus on the process of artistic creation by examining the relationships between art and practices of self-awareness or self-actualization. It furthermore will look at how those relationships then inform processes of social change. In advance of the exhibit, Sivanesan will bring together artists, scholars, Engaged Buddhist practitioners, and others for a three-day retreat and conference to interrogate the intersection of art, action, experience, and social change, and to explore how engaged practices—both Buddhist and artistic—contribute to the relevance of art to society. Panels at the retreat will be videotaped and serve as an on-going resource for other researchers.
“Isn’t life a series of images that change as they repeat themselves?”