Left: Northeast peak of Phnom Da in 2019. Southern Cambodia, Takeo Province. Photo: Konstanty Kulik, courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Art. Right: Krishna Lifting Mount Govardhan (detail), c. 600. Southern Cambodia, Takeo Province, Phnom Da. Sandstone; The Cleveland Museum of Art
“Revealing Krishna: Journey to Cambodia’s Sacred Mountain” Opens at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art April 30
“Revealing Krishna: Journey to Cambodia’s Sacred Mountain” will transport visitors to a sacred mountain in the floodplains of southern Cambodia through art, immersive video installations and interactive design. The exhibition, organized by the Cleveland Museum of Art and adapted by the National Museum of Asian Art, showcases a monumental sculpture of the Hindu god Krishna, known as the Cleveland Krishna, lifting Mount Govardhan to protect his people from a torrential storm sent by an angry god. For the first time, the sculpture, is explored in the context of its original physical and cultural environment: as part of a multi-religious landscape and built into a mountain. The exhibition will be on view April 30 through Sept. 18.
“We are delighted to welcome visitors to this one-of-a-kind exhibition that tells such a powerful story of international partnership between the United States and Cambodia to preserve and restore the Kingdom’s rich cultural heritage” said Chase F. Robinson, the museum’s Dame Jillian Sackler Director.
As visitors journey through the exhibition toward the monumental sculpture of Krishna, they will experience the sculpture’s life story through three digital experiences developed by the Cleveland Museum of Art and as an original documentary short film produced exclusively for the National Museum of Asian Art:
Immersive Timeline—Gods of Phnom Da: Global Journeys (Cleveland Museum of Art)
The opening gallery starts with a moving timeline narrated by Angelina Jolie, director, actor and humanitarian, and Loung Ung, best-selling author of First They Killed My Father. The timeline conveys the origins, discovery and conservation history of the monumental sculpture of Krishna and seven other gods of Phnom Da. Visitors are shown archival images of excavations from the 1800s to 2021 and present-day footage and animated maps illustrating the story arc of these ancient sculptures. The film concludes by examining the ambitious conservation initiatives that have taken place throughout the past decade, which involved intensive collaboration and exchange with colleagues in Cambodia and the Cleveland Museum of Art.
Journey to Phnom Da (Cleveland Museum of Art)
A panoramic, cinematic experience transports visitors to the waterways of the Mekong River delta and Phnom Da, the sacred mountain where the Cleveland Krishna was found. Visitors move through an immersive corridor with floor-to-ceiling projections of the canals leading to Phnom Da passing on both sides and the sacred mountain ahead. Filmed in Cambodia with a drone and a three-camera rig mounted on a boat, the projected footage allows visitors to see varied views of the surrounding landscape from the vantage point of the canals as they travel virtually toward the two-peaked mountain.
Krishna of Phnom Da (Cleveland Museum of Art)
An interactive, motion-activated projection of the Cleveland Krishna will provide detailed views of the sculpture’s unique iconography. This experience allows visitors intimate, rarely seen views of this ancient sculpture through animations of high-resolution 3D models, projected at life-size. It also includes a digital recreation of how the sculpture is believed to have appeared when installed in its cave sanctuary.
The adapted exhibition at the National Museum of Asian Art was curated by Emma Natalya Stein, assistant curator of South and Southeast Asian art.
“This exhibition is a unique opportunity to bring the lush Cambodian landscape into the space of our galleries,” Stein said. “The connection between art and landscape is especially strong in Southeast Asia—the Cleveland Krishna was originally a site-specific installation in his cave. The exhibition offers our visitors a series of experiences that tracks Krishna’s 1,500-year journey from his sacred mountain across three continents. We also commissioned the documentary Satook because we wanted to explore the ways in which religious sites, objects and practices transform in response to generational, geographic and political change.”
Film: Satook (National Museum of Asian Art)
Exclusively at the National Museum of Asian Art, Satook, a short film directed by renowned filmmaker praCh Ly, will be shown continuously in the exhibition. It examines the transformation of religious traditions in Cambodian American communities through the ruptures of war and immigration. The film centers on four intimate conversations with survivors and the diaspora of the Khmer Rouge genocide who share their personal experiences and memories of their parents and reflect on their communities and journeys of belief. The film also examines the contemporary meanings of ancient sacred sites in Cambodia and considers more broadly the diversity and complexities of religion in four different locations in the United States. A special thanks to the individuals featured in Satook: Sam Chhon, Bonieta Lach, Mea Lath, Pon “Carvi” Ly and Loung Ung.
“I am humbly honored to have created the film Satook for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art,” Ly said. “I am also thankful to all the interviewees for inviting us into their community and grateful to them for being so open and honest. I hope that when you watch the film, you will not only see the horrors of war, but the beauty of life, traditions and cultures.”
The preservation of Krishna Lifting Mountain Govardhan was undertaken by the Cleveland Museum of Art conservation staff and funded by a grant from Bank of America Art Conservation Fund. This project was made possible through a cooperative agreement with the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts of the Government of the Kingdom of Cambodia, and in collaboration with the National Museum of Cambodia. The exhibition’s official technology partner is Microsoft. Made possible with support from DLR Group | Westlake Reed Leskosky. The adapted exhibition at the National Museum of Asian Art is part of The Arts of Devotion, a five-year initiative at the National Museum of Asian Art dedicated to furthering civic discourse and understanding of religion. This program is made possible by Lilly Endowment Inc.
About the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art is committed to preserving, exhibiting and interpreting exemplary works of art. It houses exceptional collections of Asian art, with more than 45,000 objects dating from the Neolithic period to today. Renowned and iconic objects originate from China, Japan, Korea, South and Southeast Asia, the ancient Near East and the Islamic world. The museum’s Freer Gallery of Art also holds a signiﬁcant group of American works of art largely dating to the late 19th century. It boasts the world’s largest collection of diverse works by James McNeill Whistler, including the famed Peacock Room. The National Museum of Asian Art is dedicated to increasing understanding of the arts of Asia through a broad portfolio of exhibitions, publications, conservation, research and education.
The National Museum of Asian Art was the Smithsonian’s first dedicated art museum and the first art museum on the National Mall. Since opening its doors as the Freer Gallery of Art in 1923, it has acquired an international reputation. The museum is preparing for its centennial in 2023—a milestone celebration and a springboard for the museum’s transformative vision for its next century, which will broaden and deepen the museum’s impact and reach, both on-site and online.