The arhats are ancient stone figures discovered in 2001-02 among the ruins of the Changnyeongsa Temple in South Korea’s Gangwon-do Province, believed to have been built during Goryeo dynasty (918-1392) and destroyed in mid Joseon dynasty (1392-1879).
The stone statues depict ‘arhats’ – ‘nahan’ in Korean – known in Buddhism as one who has attained enlightenment. The arhats represent five hundred disciples of the Buddha who gathered to compile his words into scriptures after the Buddha entered nirvana.
Although they have attained enlightenment, they defer entering nirvana themselves and remain in their human state in order to teach and save sentient beings.
The stone arhats have been carefully restored by Chuncheon National Museum of Korea and were first presented at the Museum in 2018, followed by National Museum of Korea in 2019, becoming Korea’s most popular exhibition that year.
The exhibition at Powerhouse coincides with and celebrates the 60th Anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Korea and Australia, and marks the first time the arhats have been seen outside Korea.
The multi-faceted exhibition presents 50 stone arhats and one Buddha in an immersive environment designed by Korean artist Kim Seung Young.
A major work consisting of a tower made up of more than 1000 audio speakers surrounded by an urban soundscape by sound designer Oh Yoonseok, presents arhats as if meditating in an attitude of intimate, reclusive poise amidst a cacophony that evokes the distracting bustle of urban life.
“Five Hundred Arhats was Korea’s most popular exhibition in 2019 and the Powerhouse is thrilled to present this incredible exhibition outside of Korea for the first time, providing our audiences a unique opportunity to engage with Korean culture,” said Powerhouse Chief Executive Lisa Havilah.
“This is the final exhibition to be presented in our 2021 exhibition program, a year in which 10 new exhibitions have launched at the museum. This is the first time the Powerhouse has launched this many new exhibitions together since the opening of the Ultimo building in 1988,” said Havilah.
“Unlike images of the Buddha or bodhisattvas, the arhats from Changnyeongsa Temple resemble ordinary people, yet their childlike simplicity and spiritual aura touch our hearts and teach us that we can all be enlightened beings,” said Curator of Five Hundred Arhats, Min-Jung Kim.
“This exhibition presents the beauty created by unknown Korean craftsmen in the distant past, together with an innovative contemporary Korean artist,” said Min-Jung Kim.
“It is an honour to introduce Korea’s Arhats of Changnyeongsa Temple to Australia on the occasion of the 60th Anniversary of Korea-Australia diplomatic ties,” said Chuncheon National Museum Director, Kim Woollim.
“Although the expressions of the arhats are plain and simple, they have a mysterious power that touches the human heart. We hope that the arhats will soothe tired minds and that the day when Korea and Australia can meet in person, comes as soon as possible,” said Woollim.
“It is an honour to introduce the installation in Australia, designed in collaboration with the Five Hundred Arhats exhibition,” said Contemporary artist Kim Seung Young. “I hope that the arhats’ candid gamut of expressions and emotions provides a means to break down any emotional walls that may be built up in the hearts of visitors.”
Following the reopening of the museum on Monday 11 October 2021, the Powerhouse has now unveiled eight new exhibitions: Eucalyptusdom, Robert Rosen: Glitterati, Clay Dynasty, Electric Keys, Graphic Identities, Microcars, Invisible Revealed and Five Hundred Arhats of Changnyeongsa Temple.
Five Hundred Arhats of Changnyeongsa Temple
Powerhouse Museum, 500 Harris St, Ultimo
Exhibition continues to 15 May 2022
For more information, visit: www.maas.museum for details.
Image: Five Hundred Arhats of Changnyeongsa Temple – photo by Zan Wimberley
Note: The Powerhouse is open in line with the latest NSW Government’s public health guidelines and has implemented a number of safety protocols to keep visitors safe during COVID-19. Staff, and visitors to the Powerhouse aged over 16, are required to be double vaccinated with an approved COVID-19 vaccine, as well as wear masks throughout the museum. Further information can be found here!