Fellow's Seminar: Ms. Akiko Walley

Invitation to the Fellow’s Seminar Fiscal 2008-2009 (on July 31, 2008)

The Japan Foundation
General Coordination and the Americas Div.

The Japan Foundation would like to welcome you to join us for the Fellows' Seminar for Fiscal 2008-2009. The presenter is Ms. Akiko Walley.

Date: Thursday, July 31, 2008
Time: 15:00-17:00
Venue: JFIC Space “KEYAKI” at the Japan Foundation Head Office.

Note: The Japan Foundation headquarters moved to the new office. Please refer to the link below.

AdmissionAdmission Fee: Free
Language: English (no interpretation)
AdmissionSession Theme: “Objects as Missionaries: Interpreting Sakyamuni Triad in the Main Hall of Horyuji”
Contact: If you would like to attend the seminar, please notify Japanese Studies and Intellectual Exchange Dept. by July 31, 2008s with your name, affiliation, and contact information (tel., fax or e-mail). If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us.
Tel: 03-5369-6069/ Fax: 03-5369-6041 E-mail
Presenter: Ms. Akiko Walley
Akiko Walley is a Ph.D. candidate in the History of Art and Architecture Department, Harvard University.  With the generous support of the Japan Foundation’s Japanese Studies Fellowship, she is currently affiliated with the Historiographical Institute, The University of Tokyo, conducting her research on Horyuji in preparation for finishing her dissertation.
Presentation Theme: “Objects as Missionaries: Interpreting Sakyamuni Triad in the Main Hall of Horyuji”

It is virtually impossible to discuss the history of Japan’s religion and art without touching on Horyuji—a still-thriving temple complex located in a suburb of Nara. A century of scholarly exploration of this site has produced significant discoveries that illuminate our understanding not only of this temple, but of the nature of Japanese art, Buddhism, and society in the seventh to eighth centuries. However, there are still many basic questions to be answered. For example: what does the temple itself mean? Does the arrangement of its component buildings, and the artifacts within them, have a purpose? In my talk, I will address this issue through an examination of the central icon of the Main Hall of Horyuji, the bronze sculpture of the Sakyamuni Buddha and his two attendants.

Datable to 623, its age—not to mention its artistic sophistication—have made this Sakyamuni triad one of the most important and heavily examined examples of early seventh century Japanese Buddhist imagery. However, research thus far has primarily concentrated on its relationship to Chinese and Korean works and its position in contemporary history, leaving its significance as a Buddhist icon largely neglected. This reluctance to propose a doctrinal interpretation of the triad is a common phenomenon in the current research of the early seventh century Buddhist artifacts, and is closely tied to the difficult question of agency—who was responsible for how a Buddhist icon looked?

Through a close reading of the Sakyamuni triad, I will argue that a doctrinal interpretation of this object is, in fact, not only possible but necessary, and lead us to a better understanding of how the object is tied to the particular circumstances surrounding Buddhist institutions in seventh century Japan. I will introduce a framework for looking at this period in Japan as one of the “Buddhist Mission,” when Buddhist proselytizing was at its most active. I will propose we understand the Sakaymuni triad not only as a tool with which a priest could explain Buddhist concepts, but as a text that could communicate those concepts with an absence of a priest.

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