Art Sets.

Spirit and sustenance

This 'conversation' between artworks is part of a display in the Gallery's exhibition Conversations through the Asian collections.

The enormous head of Buddha was made in the Ayutthaya period in Thailand more than 600 years ago. Across the centuries it lost its skin of glowing lacquer and became separated from the statue it was part of. But despite these losses – and perhaps partly because of them – the head still transmits serenity.

Thai artist Montien Boonma’s bowl by contrast is only two decades old. But it too gives evidence of physical trials, and it is deeply informed by the Buddhist pursuit of serenity in the face of worldly suffering. A devout Buddhist who died of cancer in 2000, Boonma made this bowl when he was dealing with the reality of pain, and he has shaped it like the alms bowls used by Thai Buddhist monks – empty vessels held out to be filled with food by others in an act of mutual exchange. Boonma’s teeth imprint the bowl’s interior and moulds of his hands grip the rim. At its first showing, viewers drank herbs and whiskey from within using a scoop shaped like the artist’s mouth. It is as if, by offering sustenance from the interior of his own body, Boonma hoped to draw spiritual and physical relief in return.

What emotions do you feel when you look at these works? Why do they make you feel this way?

Draw a detail of one work capturing the contrast of textures.

Write about your personal response to these works.