Seunghye Lee: May 17, 4-6pm

May 17th (Fri), 4-6pm, Rm 153

Seunghye Lee
Ph.D. Candidate, University of Chicago

Representing the Invisible: The Making of the Iconic Body in Medieval Chinese and Korean Buddhist Art

Buddhist across East Asia put things inside images over the centuries. Various contents of and ways of placing them inside images allow us to examine conceptions of the divine body, which are not readily visible on the surface of images or written accounts of images. In this talk I intend to ask several questions: How did the practice of placing things inside Buddhist images develop in medieval China and Korea? What can we learn when we shift our gaze from the visible surface of images to the unseen interior? What do these concealed stuffs reveal conceptions of the iconic body in medieval Sinitic Buddhist visual culture? The first part of this talk traces out larger trajectories of the two modes of placing objects inside Chinese images with a focus on the Seiryŏji Buddha image, made in Taizhou in 985. I suggest that the combined deposit of relics and mock organs inside the Seiryŏji Buddha image was deeply rooted in the heightened awareness of corporeality—a cultural phenomena that had appeared from the eighth century onward. I further examine the ways in which the relics and mock organs were correlated with each other. The second part turns to the examination of how the placement of objects inside images was transmitted and manifested in Korean kingdom of Koryŏ (918-1392). Investigation of relevant materials not only highlights distinctive Korean features that characterized the practice of pokchang (literally meaning things hidden inside the belly), but places it within the larger context of the Buddhist enshrinement practice in East Asia. It further reveals that Koryŏ Buddhist considered the inner body of the icon as part of a larger cosmic order. The iconic body was imagined to be at once a microcosm of and a storehouse of the Buddha’s power embodied in the objects empowered during the abhiṣeka ritual.

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Persons with a disability who believe they need assistance are requested to contact quincyngan@uchicago.edu in advance.

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