Hands on the Past

Hands on the PastI was at the Smith College Art Museum, and snapped this picture with my cellphone in the Ancient Greek gallery on the second floor. They have a few nice red-figure ware pieces, a Cypriot geometric vase, some glass bottles, and some bits of jewelry — quite nice for a museum out in the country, far away from most anything.

For reasons I don’t quite understand, there are a large number of windows in the building, and some art pieces have been placed where they are in direct sunlight, including this kylix or drinking cup showing an athlete about to hurl the discus (or possibly playing a drum?).

Thanks to the sunlight, my face, my hands, my mala are all visible, reflected in the plexiglass of the case.  I took two such photographs, one where I didn’t notice the sunlit effect, and this one — where I took advantage of it to make the photograph show me trying to grab the mandala of the boy with his discus.  I wanted to explore the concept of reaching out across time-and-space, and through security measures, to put my hands on an object about 2500 years old.  BUT! Not only to put my hands on it, but to wrap my mind around the lives of the people who produced this object.

Let’s face it: the past is a foreign country. The mala on my wrist doesn’t get used to say OM NAMAH SHIVAYA 108 times a day.  The camera that’s taking the photograph, and the plexiglass case, would be foreign objects to the boy, though he might have a sense of how the mala would be used.  We both stand under the same sun, in a sense, but we belong to different eras, and different cultures. Ultimately, we have different mindsets, and we can’t possibly understand one another’s worlds.

In a Velveteen Rabbit sense, he’s far more enduring and real than I will ever be.  Which of us — he or me — is truly the shadow here?

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