Section: Arts

Art and afterlife in Gund

By Anna Dunlavey

The archetypal image of a mummified body — the one wrapped in gauze, lying in a painted sarcophagus in a pyramid — is not what one will find upon walking into the Meir-Draudt Curatorial Classroom in the Gund Gallery. Instead, visitors will see a large photo of a mummified body   not wrapped in gauze, but in jade tiles with gold string. In this recreated tomb, curated by the students in Professor of Art History Sarah Blick’s Art of China class, visitors will see more of a focus on life than on death.

The exhibit, Creating One’s Own Afterlife: Class and Han Dynasty Tomb Artifacts, is on display this week only in the Gallery, closing on tomorrow, Dec. 12. “The exhibit examines what kinds of objects people might include in their tomb if they believed that in doing so they could design their own afterlife,” Blick wrote in an email. 

Blick explained over email the varying items that can be found in the tombs of people from different classes in the Han Dynasty (206 BCE-CE 220). “The upper-class nobility focused on luxury and personal immortality, while the lower classes (who were also interested in personal immortality) made sure to stock their tombs with food, shelter, and things that the upper classes never had to worry about,” Blick said. “The Confucian scholar class, in the middle, had an entirely different view. They felt that the money and labor poured into tomb objects was immoral. Instead, their tombs (with their above-ground shrines) were used to teach people moral values and thus enhance the world of the living.”

Curating an exhibit was not originally part of the course plan for Art of China, but Blick created this project to ensure that students without a background in Asian art would have an equal opportunity to succeed in the class. “Requiring a typical term paper would not really be feasible for students without much background in Asian Art,” Blick said. “I came up with this as a creative solution that would involve research and writing, but in an entirely different context.”

Blick hopes the Kenyon community will stop by and appreciate all the work her students have put into it. “I am hoping that those who see the exhibit will ponder what kinds of things they would choose to include if they could design their own afterlife and why and how those who lived 2,000 years ago approached it,” Blick said.

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