Photos: Exhibition on ‘Tantra’ opens at British Museum, London

A mega exhibition opened at London’s British Museum this autumn (September 24, 2020 to January 24, 2021) and it’s built around the Indian philosophy of Tantra, which grew in popularity between the 5th and 6th centuries CE. Centering on the power of divine feminine energy, Tantra inspired the dramatic rise of goddess worship in medieval India and continues to influence contemporary feminist thought and artistic practice. From its inception to the present day, Tantra has challenged political and sexual norms around the world.

UPDATED ON OCT 03, 2020 11:19 AM IST 10 Photos
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Sutapa Biswas (b. 1962): Housewives with Steak-Knives. Oil, acrylics, pencil, collage, white tape on paper on canvas, 1985. The British artist overlays elements of the goddess with images of a contemporary Indian woman. She can plate a steak, wield a blade; this is not the ma of popular culture, but Ma Kali. (Courtesy Sutapa Biswas / DACS 2019)

Sutapa Biswas (b. 1962): Housewives with Steak-Knives. Oil, acrylics, pencil, collage, white tape on paper on canvas, 1985. The British artist overlays elements of the goddess with images of a contemporary Indian woman. She can plate a steak, wield a blade; this is not the ma of popular culture, but Ma Kali. (Courtesy Sutapa Biswas / DACS 2019)

UPDATED ON OCT 03, 2020 11:19 AM IST
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Print of Ramprasad Sen with the goddess Kali, signed P Chakraborty, Bengal, India, 20th century. This print shows the goddess Kali as a revolutionary force shadowing Sen, an 18th-century Kali devotee and poet. It’s considered by some to be an early example of the country represented as Motherland. (Courtesy Trustees of the British Museum)

Print of Ramprasad Sen with the goddess Kali, signed P Chakraborty, Bengal, India, 20th century. This print shows the goddess Kali as a revolutionary force shadowing Sen, an 18th-century Kali devotee and poet. It’s considered by some to be an early example of the country represented as Motherland. (Courtesy Trustees of the British Museum)

UPDATED ON OCT 03, 2020 11:19 AM IST
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Granite sculpture of a Yogini goddess, Tamil Nadu, India, 10th century AD. Yoginis were part of the Tantra pantheon. They were seductive beings who could change shape at will, be a bird or a jackal, again a typical Tantric reference to seeing women as embodying both creative and destructive forces. “The Tantric worldview sees all material reality as animated by Shakti – unlimited, divine feminine power,” writes curator Imma Ramos. (Courtesy Trustees of the British Museum)

Granite sculpture of a Yogini goddess, Tamil Nadu, India, 10th century AD. Yoginis were part of the Tantra pantheon. They were seductive beings who could change shape at will, be a bird or a jackal, again a typical Tantric reference to seeing women as embodying both creative and destructive forces. “The Tantric worldview sees all material reality as animated by Shakti – unlimited, divine feminine power,” writes curator Imma Ramos. (Courtesy Trustees of the British Museum)

UPDATED ON OCT 03, 2020 11:19 AM IST
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Popular print of the goddess Kali, published by the Calcutta Art Studio. Lithograph, Kolkata, Bengal, India, c. 1885–1895. Ma Kali was seen as a figure of anti-British resistance by the colonial administration. “This is evident in prints produced by printmakers such as the Calcutta Art Studio, established in 1878. A colonial administrator identified the decapitated heads in this print as suspiciously British-looking, leading to its censorship,” writes curator Imma Ramos. (Courtesy Trustees of the British Museum)

Popular print of the goddess Kali, published by the Calcutta Art Studio. Lithograph, Kolkata, Bengal, India, c. 1885–1895. Ma Kali was seen as a figure of anti-British resistance by the colonial administration. “This is evident in prints produced by printmakers such as the Calcutta Art Studio, established in 1878. A colonial administrator identified the decapitated heads in this print as suspiciously British-looking, leading to its censorship,” writes curator Imma Ramos. (Courtesy Trustees of the British Museum)

UPDATED ON OCT 03, 2020 11:19 AM IST
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Bronze sculpture of Karaikkal Ammaiyar, Tamil Nadu, India, late 13th century. Karaikkal was a 6th-century Tamil saint who abandoned her role of obedient wife and danced her way to the gods. It was precisely such challenge to established structures and hierarchies, in Tantric lore, that made this ideology appealing to women and the socially marginalised. (Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York )

Bronze sculpture of Karaikkal Ammaiyar, Tamil Nadu, India, late 13th century. Karaikkal was a 6th-century Tamil saint who abandoned her role of obedient wife and danced her way to the gods. It was precisely such challenge to established structures and hierarchies, in Tantric lore, that made this ideology appealing to women and the socially marginalised. (Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York )

UPDATED ON OCT 03, 2020 11:19 AM IST
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‘Human Be-in,’ poster 1967, USA. This poster designed by Stanley Mouse and Alton Kelley (photograph by Casey Sonnabend) advertises the Human Be-In festival, held in San Francisco, which heralded the Summer of Love. “Yoga and meditation were promoted as transformative practices that could inspire minds to challenge the status quo. The poster includes a portrait of a yogi taken in Nepal. Yogis captured the popular imagination in the West as countercultural role models,” curator Imma Ramos, writes in the exhibition blog. (Courtesy Trustees of British Museum)

‘Human Be-in,’ poster 1967, USA. This poster designed by Stanley Mouse and Alton Kelley (photograph by Casey Sonnabend) advertises the Human Be-In festival, held in San Francisco, which heralded the Summer of Love. “Yoga and meditation were promoted as transformative practices that could inspire minds to challenge the status quo. The poster includes a portrait of a yogi taken in Nepal. Yogis captured the popular imagination in the West as countercultural role models,” curator Imma Ramos, writes in the exhibition blog. (Courtesy Trustees of British Museum)

UPDATED ON OCT 03, 2020 11:19 AM IST
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Page from Hatha yoga manuscript depicting the ‘yogic body’. India, early 19th century. This page depicts the yogic body with a focus on the Kundalini, imagined as a serpent (representing power), coiled at the base of the spine. (Courtesy British Library Board)

Page from Hatha yoga manuscript depicting the ‘yogic body’. India, early 19th century. This page depicts the yogic body with a focus on the Kundalini, imagined as a serpent (representing power), coiled at the base of the spine. (Courtesy British Library Board)

UPDATED ON OCT 03, 2020 11:19 AM IST
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Biren De (1926–2011), Untitled. Acrylic on canvas, 1974. De was always referred to as a Tantric painter and always denied he was one, so this is an interesting addition. “His paintings from the ’70s do depict concentric shapes of mandalas framing luminous central deities,” says curator of the Tantra exhibition, Imma Ramos. (Courtesy Biren De)

Biren De (1926–2011), Untitled. Acrylic on canvas, 1974. De was always referred to as a Tantric painter and always denied he was one, so this is an interesting addition. “His paintings from the ’70s do depict concentric shapes of mandalas framing luminous central deities,” says curator of the Tantra exhibition, Imma Ramos. (Courtesy Biren De)

UPDATED ON OCT 03, 2020 11:19 AM IST
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Granite sculpture of the god Bhairava, Tamil Nadu, India, 11th century. Bhairava is considered a reincarnation of Shiva (revered in Tantra philosophy for his delight in defying conventions and boundaries). Bhairava is believed to have emerged from Shiva’s nail to chop off one of Brahma's heads in order to cut him to size. (Courtesy British Museum)

Granite sculpture of the god Bhairava, Tamil Nadu, India, 11th century. Bhairava is considered a reincarnation of Shiva (revered in Tantra philosophy for his delight in defying conventions and boundaries). Bhairava is believed to have emerged from Shiva’s nail to chop off one of Brahma's heads in order to cut him to size. (Courtesy British Museum)

UPDATED ON OCT 03, 2020 11:19 AM IST
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Thangka (painting on textile) depicting Saraha and other Mahasiddhas, Tibet, 18th century. Saraha was one of the great Tantric masters, or mahasiddhas. Tibet is the home of one of the popular schools of Tantric Buddhism, the Vajrayana. (Courtesy British Museum)

Thangka (painting on textile) depicting Saraha and other Mahasiddhas, Tibet, 18th century. Saraha was one of the great Tantric masters, or mahasiddhas. Tibet is the home of one of the popular schools of Tantric Buddhism, the Vajrayana. (Courtesy British Museum)

UPDATED ON OCT 03, 2020 11:19 AM IST
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