Mudras do Matter

A week ago last Friday with temperatures in the low teens, thirty-five New School students bundled up and made their way to the museum where they received a warm welcome from two of our museum guides, Olivia Buscarino and Evan Goodman.

The undergraduates, who are transferring to the New School this semester, were taking part in an orientation program that included gallery tours and a K2 Lounge reception afterwards. We asked Olivia and Evan, who graduated from the Eugene Lang College and Parsons School of Design respectively, to take the students to the galleries so they could explore Himalayan Asian art through the eyes of two New School alumni.

Watching Olivia and Evan give their tours, I was struck by how beautifully they incorporate gestures into their talks. It can be challenging to see faces and facial expressions in our low-lit galleries. Often, it’s the guide’s hands that support and amplify a concept or story. In the picture above, Olivia is discussing the importance of the buddha’s earth-touching gesture, known as a mudra, which conveyed his profound sense of awakening. One can sense the importance of touch simply by looking at Olivia’s hands.

While examining the Tibetan Buddhist Wheel of Life with his tour attendees, Evan joined  word and gesture together to help shed light on such complex concepts as the circular nature of time, rebirth, and the Buddha’s exemplary path to liberation.

Throughout the ages, mudras have played an important role for teachers, helping them to convey information in vast meditation halls or before large crowds. Many pieces in our collection depict Tibetan Buddhist lamas (teachers) holding their hands in specific poses to enumerate points and illustrate concepts.

Given that gesturing has been so important within this ancient tradition, it seems fitting that our skillful guides would rely on their hands to help tell stories and convey information to enrich and enliven discussions. Whether a teacher is discussing Tibetan Buddhism in a meditation hall or a Rubin Museum guide is looking deeply at a work of art in our galleries, mudras do matter.




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