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'Discovering Ganesha: Remover of Obstacles' at Pacific Asia Museum

Exhibition puts the spotlight on the Ganesh Chaturthi festival and the paintings, statues and photographs that bring the annual celebration to life.

March 22, 2009|Liesl Bradner

The Hindu god Ganesha is known by more than 1,000 names, including Ganapati, Vinayaka and Pillaiyar, but he is best known as the Remover of Obstacles, the Patron of the Arts and the Lord of Wisdom. So it's only fitting that the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena is presenting an exhibition examining one of Hinduism's most revered deities -- and is doing so after significant obstacles had to be removed.

"Discovering Ganesha: Remover of Obstacles" features works from multimedia artist Shana Dressler and photographer Sudharak Olwe as well as objects from the Pacific Asia Museum and Norton Simon collections.

In 2004, the New York-based Dressler traveled to Mumbai, India, to record the Ganesh Chaturthi, a 10-day festival held annually from late August to early September honoring the elephant-headed god. (The origins of Ganesha date to about AD 300 to 500 in Southeast Asia.)

The festival commences with the making of a Ganesha statue, varying in size from three-quarters of an inch to more than 25 feet high, installed on raised platforms in homes or temporary outdoor temples. A priest conducts rituals while followers offer flowers and food to the idol and sing and dance. The last day culminates with a procession escorting the statue to the nearest body of water, where it's immersed and released, symbolizing a journey toward Ganesha's abode on Mt. Kailash in Tibet.

"We were fascinated by the images and how they portrayed the same tradition being celebrated for 700 years," curator Yeonsoo Chee said. "They show how the tradition is evolving into something contemporary and how it is not something static but dynamic and moving forward."

As for the obstacles the small-scale exhibition faced, Chee said budget cuts had threatened the opening of the show, which runs through Sept. 20. But volunteers in South Asian communities in Orange and Los Angeles counties, including Pasadena, banded together to raise $8,000 to keep the exhibit on the museum's schedule.

-- Liesl Bradner

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