Painting Ethics: Death, Love, and Moral Vision in the Mahāparinibbāna

This essay draws on Kenneth George's ethnographic study of the Indonesian painter Abdul Djalil Pirous and his art, as well as Pirous's own characterizations of his paintings as “spiritual notes,” to theorize and examine how paintings serve as ethical media. The essay offers a provisional d...

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Bibliographic Details
Published in:Journal of religious ethics
Main Author: Hansen, Anne (Author)
Format: Electronic Article
Language:English
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Published: [2016]
In:Journal of religious ethics
Year: 2016, Volume: 44, Issue: 1, Pages: 17-50
Further subjects:B Buddhist funeral practices
B visual ethics
B visual culture
B Buddhism
B Cambodia
B Mahāparinibbāna
B Buddhism and death
B Buddhist painting
B Cambodian artist Sum Pon
B Khmer Rouge
B Buddhist ethics of love
Online Access: Volltext (Verlag)
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Description
Summary:This essay draws on Kenneth George's ethnographic study of the Indonesian painter Abdul Djalil Pirous and his art, as well as Pirous's own characterizations of his paintings as “spiritual notes,” to theorize and examine how paintings serve as ethical media. The essay offers a provisional definition of and methodology for “visual ethics” and considers how pictures and language (such as scriptural texts) can function quite differently as sites for ethical reflection. The particular painting analyzed here is a large temple mural of the death of the Buddha (mahāparinibbāna) located at Wat Unnalom, a prominent Buddhist monastery in Phnom Penh, painted in the 1980s by Cambodian artist Sum Pon. After discussing the lifeworld of Pon's Mahāparinibbāna and varied Khmer Buddhist interpretations of the painting, I suggest that the painting's rendering of “moral vision” helps us understand Buddhist ways of seeing more generally. I conclude by returning to George's question about how our understanding of ethics would change if we took pictures as the “fulcrum of moral relationships,” arguing that pictures can embody certain kinds of tensions or paradoxes that are difficult to explain and grasp discursively, such as paradoxes that arise from the inevitability and yet inexplicability of death as well as the tensions between Buddhist aims of cultivating “boundless” love and the particularities of our own individual experiences of love.
ISSN:1467-9795
Contains:Enthalten in: Journal of religious ethics
Persistent identifiers:DOI: 10.1111/jore.12130