Benevolent Beings: Buddhas and Bodhisattvas from South and Southeast Asia

Benevolent Beings: Buddhas and Bodhisattvas from South and Southeast Asia brings together 44 rarely seen works of art from the Norton Simon collections to explore the diverse ways in which buddhas, bodhisattvas and other protective deities have been seen to offer blessings, guidance and security to their devotees.

In South Asian Buddhist temples from the 13th to 18th centuries, works of art indicated a transition from the secular to the sacred, with the innermost spaces of the shrine reserved for the most revered objects. Drawing inspiration from these design elements, the exhibition begins with a gallery of utilitarian and instructive votive objects, such as a censer, or incense burner, as well as highly decorated covers for Buddhist manuscripts. Some objects functioned as tools for worship, whereas others were specifically designed to engage the senses.

A second gallery displays works of art that embody the divine realms of Buddhist and Hindu practice. Sculptures of the various bodhisattvas and gods in this section were often shaped through exchanges between Buddhist and Hindu visual and spiritual traditions. They reveal religious links as well as the transmission of sculptural styles and art-making processes throughout the region. A final space evokes the relinquishment of material attachments that forms the core of all Buddhist thought. Buddhas shown in deep and contemplative meditation display a repertoire of sculptural styles and shared artistic traditions.

Together, the works of art presented in this exhibition—which spans 2,000 years of production—speak to the continuity of devotional engagement with objects that remain essential to healing and tranquility in Buddhist and Hindu traditions. Positioning the Museum’s galleries as a restorative and auspicious space, this selection of South and Southeast Asian art illuminates the functions of these objects that transcend the visual by centering the well-being of all viewers.