Confronting the “selfie” and human-hair Buddhas: Odd artistic detours, then and now

Is it just exquisite coincidence or impishly deliberate? On Friday, Mainsite Contemporary Art in Norman, OK, will mount an exhibit entitled “Selfie: An Exploration of Identity” simultaneously with “Buddha Tuesdays,” featuring “small Buddha sculptures, corpse drawings, painted clay canvases and a variety of other items.” It seems they passed on “No-Selfie” as a title for the latter. The shows run through March 15; details here.

The peculiar intersections of Buddhism and artistic culture are not confined to our contemporary era, however. Case in point: 17th c. Japanese Buddhist priest/artist Kunen was in the habit of collecting hair from the heads of the faithful and threading it throughout images of buddhas and bodhisattvas. He maintained this would accumulate good karma for the recently-shorn. Certain of Kunen’s mandala stitchworks are said to use the hair of at least 10,000 individuals. Only eight of Kunen’s 72 hirsute creations are known to exist. If you happen to be in Kyoto, this first-ever public exhibition of Kunen’s work is being shown at the district office of the Jodoshu (Pure Land) sect of Buddhism in Higashiyama Ward. If not, have a look at several examples here.

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