An audience with the deva

The Museum of World Culture in Barcelona, Spain, has just opened its doors as a massive repository of cultural and artistic collections that illustrate different non-western cultures of Africa, Asia, America and Oceania.  

More than 700 pieces on display at the museum come from the personal collection of the late Albert Folch-Rusinol (1922-1988) as well as the Ethnological Museum of Barcelona.

Its Asian art collection, among the largest in the world, features priceless objets d’art from India, Nepal, China, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. The Myanmar collection figures prominently in the Asia section.

Most are Buddha images and deities in different sizes and styles dating from the 16thto 20th centuries.The Myanmar collection includes several images of the “Crowned Buddha” (16th to 18th centuries) from Arakan and elsewhere, “Victorious Buddha over the demon Mara” from the late 19th century, “Buddha with his disciples” from the 19th century and a deity from the 18thto 19th centuries.

Besides the religious sculptures, the museum boasts the Kammavaca manuscripts dating to the 19th century. The manuscripts contain sacred texts of Theravada Buddhism about the ordination and behaviour of monks. Written in the Pali language and Burmese script, mainly on lacquered and gilded palm leaves, they were widely produced and disseminated throughout Myanmar in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. The first and last pages were generally illustrated with mythical creatures.

There’s also a gong stand. In Myanmar, some of the supports for holding gongs and drums are elaborately decorated with figurative motifs for use in religious and courtly contexts. This support represents toe nayar, a Burmese-tradition mythical beast with dragon or snake scales on its body, hoofed feet, a fish-like tail, wings, a lion’s head and an elephant’s trunk and tusks. In this case, the toe nayar would have protected the orchestra of which it formed part, thus ensuring its success in performances.

According to the museum’s website, some of these art objects were gathered during ethnological-anthropological trips and campaigns to different parts of Africa, America, Asia and Oceania, funded by the Barcelona City Council.