- Technology has an active role to play in steering research about historic artifacts.
- Relic of a sixteenth-century Cosmic Buddha has been recently scanned and developed into an online web module for advanced research.
- 3D scanning with digital surface occlusion provides the clearest view of the surface of ancient sculptures paving way for elaborate understanding.
– By Soha Kala
JULY 26, 2017: Most of us have disliked visiting museums to look at ancient isolated pieces on a pedestal. The cosmic Buddha statue at the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art at Washington has had similar reactions for nearly 9 decades now.
Exhibit curator Keith Wilson duly noted why this hand-less, headless statue had stood alone, without attracting much attention. “It’s not a beautiful, white marble surface”, he said calling the relic a “difficult piece to love”.
However, what makes the sculpture truly remarkable is the dense decoration that covers its surface, illustrating the Realms of Buddhist Existence- a symbolic map of the cosmos associated with Vairochana, the presumed subject of the sculpture. Despite its rich bearing, the relic remained largely ignored in the museum.
In an attempt to heighten people’s interest, the relic was first scanned in 3-D for the Smithsonian Digitization project in 2011, facilitating detailed mapping of the sculpture’ surface to clearly identify scenes and figures it contains.
These scans have now been turned into a 3-D model, forming the basis of an interactive web-based resource about the Cosmic Buddha.
The module, which is accessible online, includes guided tours written by Wilson and Janet Douglas, a former Freer|Sackler conversation scientist, showing brilliant clarity images, illustrating fundamental Buddhist teachings. Through the use of this digital model, researchers can now study the sculpture and its exceptional details, including previously unreadable details.
Wilson believes the relic was originally created to be a teaching tool. But it’s positioning in a museum brought all attention on the relic as an object, rather than as part of a ritual process. However, technology is now allowing museums to unite the artistic qualities of work with its religious connotation and purpose.
For example, Eileen Daily, director of the Doctor of Ministry in Transformational Leadership at Boston University had created a mobile app in 2011 that explained users about the history and religious significance of artworks around them.
The constant access to smart phones and technology also means works like the Cosmic Buddha are no longer exclusive to museums- their 3-D models can be accessed via the internet from anywhere around the world. For example, curators and scholars can now order scans of all objects in a Buddhist temple and recreate the space virtually.
To sum up, David Morgan, professor of religious studies at Duke University believes technology and museums are now changing each other for the better.
– by Soha Kala for NewsGram. Twitter @SohaKala
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