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The Ancient Roots of Yoga at the Smithsonian’s Sackler Gallery

Oct 27, 2013 06:27AM

The first exhibition about the visual history of yoga, “Yoga: The Art of Transformation”, is now open at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and explores yoga's rich diversity and historical transformations during the past 2,000 years. Available to view through January 26, 2014, The Art of Transformation examines yoga’s fascinating meanings and histories through more than 130 objects from 25 museums and private collections in India, Europe and the U.S. Highlights include three monumental stone yogini goddesses from a 10th century south Indian temple, reunited for the first time—10 folios from the first illustrated compilation of asanas (yogic postures) making their U.S., debut and a Thomas Edison film, Hindoo Fakir (1906), the first movie produced about India.

"This exhibition looks at yoga's ancient roots and how people have been trying to master body and spirit for millennia," says Julian Raby, the Dame Jillian Sackler director of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and Freer Gallery of Art. "By applying new scholarship to both rarely seen artworks and recognized masterpieces, we're able to shed light on practices that evolved over time—from yoga’s ancient origins to its more modern emergence in India, which set the stage for today’s global phenomenon.”

In conjunction with “The Art of Transformation”, the Freer and Sackler galleries will also host “Yoga and Visual Culture”, a free interdisciplinary symposium for scholars and yoga enthusiasts November 21 to 23. Seventeen scholars from a range of disciplines will present cutting-edge research on diverse aspects of yoga’s visual culture, organized around such topics as "Yoga and Place" and "Yoga and Print Culture." A full schedule and registration is available on the website.

Yoga classes in the galleries will be offered through “Art in Context,” an interactive 90-minute workshop combining tours of the exhibition with the practice of yoga. Led by a teaching team of a museum docent and guest yoga teachers, the workshops will be held on Wednesdays and Sundays throughout the exhibition, with special sessions offered for ages 50-plus, teens and families. Advance registration is required.

These programs are made possible in part due to the Smithsonian’s first major crowdfunding campaign, “Together We’re One.” Launched in May, the campaign raised more than $174,000 over six weeks to support public programs, yoga classes in the galleries and an exhibition catalogue, as well as the behind-the-scenes aspects of the exhibition.

Support for the exhibition is provided by the Friends of the Freer|Sackler, Whole Foods Market, Art Mentor Foundation Lucerne, the Alec Baldwin Foundation, the Ebrahimi Family Foundation, IndiaTourism, Catherine Glynn Benkaim, media partner Yoga Journal  and “Together We’re One”  donors.

The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, located at 1050 Independence Ave., S.W., and the adjacent Freer Gallery of Art, located at 12th Street and Independence Ave., S.W., are on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day (closed Dec. 25), and admission is free. For more information about the Freer and Sackler galleries and their exhibitions, programs and other public events, visit


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