Spectacles of Asceticism at Cave Temples of Sichuan: The Figuration of Liu Benzun in Ecological Perspectives

Spectacles of Asceticism at Cave Temples of Sichuan: The Figuration of Liu Benzun in Ecological Perspectives

Sonya Lee - Associate Professor of Chinese Art and Visual Cultures, University of Southern California

Monday, December 5, 2016 - 4:00pm to 5:30pm
Room 203, Henry R. Luce Hall See map
34 Hillhouse Avenue
New Haven, CT 06511

A major cult figure in southwest China from the ninth to thirteenth centuries, Liu Benzun was best known for sacrificing parts of his body to quell demons and save lives. This paper examines key figurations of Liu at cave temples in Anyue and Dazu as part of a broader study of how these sites reshaped the mountain setting, which has long been the destination for Buddhist ascetics, for lay devotees. Central to my discussion is the presentation of Liu’s Ten Austerities as a spectacular relief across a cliff surface at Baodingshan, which is in a marked contrast with the Cave of Perfect Enlightenment at the same site, wherein Liu is depicted as both a spectator and a participant in a staged encounter with the Vairochana Buddha. A comparative analysis of these sections at Baodingshan and other related sites demonstrates different strategies in using the niche format and the full cave design to tailor the mountain setting for a localized form of Buddhist rituals and devotional practices.

Sonya Lee is Associate Professor of Chinese Art and Visual Culture at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, USA. She has published widely on the material culture of Chinese Buddhism, including Surviving Nirvana: Death of the Buddha in Chinese Visual Culture (Hong Kong, 2010). Currently, Dr. Lee is completing a book manuscript titled Cave Temples of Sichuan in Eco–Art History, in which she explores the interrelationship between art and the environment by focusing on Buddhist cave temples in southwest China. Another ongoing project charts the reception of Central Asian art in modern times by examining the collecting, display, and conservation of wall painting fragments from the ancient Silk Road that are now dispersed in museum collections worldwide. Dr. Lee received her Ph.D. in art history from the University of Chicago. Her research has been supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Getty Foundation, Japan Foundation, Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation, and American Council of Learned Societies.