Light of Asia: Buddha Sakyamuni in Asian Art

Background information

Glenna Boltuch Avila, 1984. 8'h x 15'w. 840 Yale Street. Chinatown, Los Angeles.
Funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, the mural was part of an education program developed in connection with the 1984 exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, "Light of Asia: Buddha Sakyamuni in Asian Art." Approximately 30 sixth graders at the Castelar School (which was chosen for the project because of its large Asian population) first learned about murals from Glenna Avila and Jan Cook. The students then visited the Los Angeles County Museum of Art where they saw more than 190 works depicting the life of Buddha. Stories about the Buddha's life were later read to the children while they drew and painted what they heard and learned. Avila and Cook then prepared a composite design based on the students' drawings and adjusted the colors the students selected to make the work compatible with an adjacent pink door and the Politi mural. The students painted the mural on a wall that was one of two sites suggested by the school administration after Avila and Cook were denied permission to execute the work in the library.

The mural symbolically depicts the principal events in the Buddha's life. The Buddha's birth is recalled by the lotus blossom in the center, representing the blooming of the flower after the Buddha took steps in all four directions after his birth. The Buddha's First Sermon, in which the Buddha preached the doctrine of the Middle Way between self-mortification and self-indulgence, is represented by the figure sitting cross-legged on the far right. Traditionaly symbolizing the First Sermon, the wheel represents the Wheel of the Law which the Buddha set in motion during the First Sermon. At the left-center, the house-like stupa portrays the Buddha's Nirvana (extinction of desire) with the traditional symbol of Nirvana and Buddism. Fish and animals, howling in mourning, express the Buddha's death.

The text has been provided courtesy of Michael Several, Los Angeles, April 1998.

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