History of Burma
Burma (Myanmar) is a country with disparate geographical areas and types, ranging from mountainous regions to flood plains, from heavy forestation to semi-aridity. The country is likewise populated by many different ethnic peoples. These include hill groups living in the ring of highlands along the edges of the country, and the Burman majority who live primarily in the central dry zone and the southern delta region. Except for the Buddhist Shans, the hill groups are primarily animist or Christian, while the lowland Burmans follow the Theravada Buddhist faith.
Moving down from the Yunnan area of southwestern China in the 9th century CE, the Burman people entered the area encompassing present day Burma (Myanmar), displacing and absorbing the previous occupants, the Mon and the Pyu. Bordering India, Bangladesh, China, Laos, Thailand, the Bay of Bengal, and the Andaman Sea, Burma became a center for routes of exchange, including both land and sea passages. The first efflorescence of Burmese art occurred during the Pagan dynasty (1044-1287 CE) on the banks of the Irrawaddy River in the heart of the dry zone. Temples, paintings, sculpture, and other art forms were produced in abundance. During the 14th through the early 17th centuries, the capital city was relocated several times and the country became fragmented. Little cohesive information about Burmese art of this era remains. The capital was finally relocated to Ava in the north central part of the country in 1637, and remained in upper Burma until the British annexed the country in 1885 and transferred the capital to Yangon (Rangoon) in the south. Extensive amounts of art remain from the 17th to 19th century period, particularly the Mandalay period of the mid to late 19th century.
This exhibition explores several aspects of Burmese Buddhist art, as well as the history of the collectors who brought Burmese objects to the United States. The analysis of Burmese Buddhist art and American collectors is displayed in four sections, comprising Burmese Buddhism and its protectors; donors and religious practice; the transmission of religious knowledge; and collectors. Objects in the exhibition have been drawn from the Burmese holdings at the Center for Burma Studies at Northern Illinois University and the Denison University Art Gallery.