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  • Guoying Stacy Zhang

Love Carved in Stone: Appreciating Buddhist Art in a Non-Buddhist Way

At the Tsz Shan Monastery Buddhist Art Museum in Hong Kong, there is a limestone sculpture depicting a pair of hands holding a cylindrical object. At first appearance, there is nothing Buddhist about the hands. They bear no Buddhist symbols or attributes. However, the mystery amplifies the charm of the sculpture, which has drawn countless visitors to stop, behold, and wonder: Whose hands are these? What is he or she holding? When was this sculpture made?

The sculptural form of the hands is human and rhythmic, and the surface has a warm and softly polished patina. The visual aspects and aesthetics are reminiscent of British modern sculptures, which are best known for biomorphic abstraction. Biomorph is a compound of the Greek roots bios (life) and morphē (form). Biomorphic sculptures are abstract but evoke living forms such as plants and the human body. One of the most quintessential examples is Recumbent Figure 1938 by Henry Moore (1898–1986), which depicts a reclining female figure. Originally commissioned as a site-specific sculpture for the grounds of a house in Sussex, the undulating and organic form, according to Henry Moore himself, was to add “a humanizing element” and to become a “mediator” between the rolling hills and the modern architecture.*

Hands of a Disciple, China, Northern Qi dynasty, Tianbao reign (550-59). Limestone, height 36 cm.

Tsz Shan Monastery Buddhist Art Museum

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