aam rama.jpg

Rama kills the demon warrior Makaraksha in combat, from a manuscript of the Ramayana, approx. 1790. India; Himachal Pradesh state, former kingdom of Guler. Opaque watercolors on paper. Courtesy of Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Gift of Margaret Polak, 1992.95. (Asian Art Museum of San Francisco photo) 

SAN FRANCISCO — This fall, the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco will present The Rama Epic: Hero, Heroine, Ally, Foe, an original exhibition of ancient and contemporary artwork featuring the sacred stories countless generations have grown up with. Unprecedented in scale and scope, The Rama Epic features 135 sculptures and paintings, masks, puppets, and examples of temple architecture. Objects and artworks originate from India, Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand and Indonesia and borrowed from museums across the U.S., U.K. and Europe.

“This show is about more than introducing one of the world’s greatest stories to audiences in the Bay Area — it’s about gaining fresh insight into its chief characters, the hero Rama, his heroine Sita, their ally Hanuman, and their foe Ravana,” said museum curator Forrest McGill. “By focusing on key episodes of their journey, we can reveal perspectives on moral quandaries that continue to be relevant to our lives now.”

The exhibition showcases artworks from 1,500 years ago to today reveal how depictions of these characters — as well as their regional variations — have evolved over the centuries. Each gallery will focus on a main character, exploring pivotal episodes in their journey.

An original 60-minute exhibition audio tour will immerse listeners in the plot by incorporating the voice work of four actors of South Asian heritage as the main characters. Carefully crafted dialogue based on the classical Sanskrit version of the tale by Valmiki has been mixed with music effects to bring the whole mystical world of the Ramayana to life.

For families with children, specially designed “Art Cards” will create a guide for some of the more unusual creatures featured in the artwork (like a two-headed donkey demon from a centuries-old painting) as well as the interpretive magic provided by the museum live storytellers.

"We’ve organized our presentation around the four key characters so that each one can shine in a different light, uncovering the nuances in an ancient story that has continued to be retold in art and performance to emphasize new, relevant meanings,” explained McGill. “The story’s eternal — and vividly human — values of compassion, loyalty, duty, and valor are values all audiences can connect to in their daily lives.”

(The Rama Epic: Hero, Heroine, Ally, Foe – On view at the Asian Art Museum Oct. 21, 2016 – Jan. 15, 2017.)

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