Level: Upper elementary, middle
Subject: Visual Art
Estimated Time: 2 class sessions
with Eleven Heads and Eight Arms
Sino-Tibetan (Tibetan style, made in China),
Pacific Asia Museum Collection
Gift of David Uyematsu, 1995.20.2
Why does this sculpture have so many heads and arms? This
sculpture shows a bodhisattva, who is a person who has
almost attained the enlightenment that the Buddha achieved. Unlike
the like the Buddha, a bodhisattva (it’s a fun word to say:
BO-DEE-SAT-VA!) has put off his or her final enlightenment to help
the rest of us humans. Because we need so much help, this bodhisattva
has eleven heads and eight arms.
This bodhisattva is Avalokiteshvara (try
saying it fast: AH-VAH-LOH-KEE-TESH-VARA) who is beloved by Buddhists
everywhere. This bodhisattva is considered to be the most compassionate
of them all. What is compassion? It is understanding others’
pain, hunger, and fear and the desiring to help others overcome
their suffering. Compassion is a value that is important to Buddhists
and indeed to most people.
1. Understand basic Buddhist concepts, including the practice of
compassion and helping others who are suffering.
2. Creating an artwork that shows virtues valued by the student.
Ask students if they know why this sculpture has so many heads and
arms? (Just how many does it have? Count them!) Why do they think
this statue is golden? It’s golden because the artist who
made it wanted to show how much he loved and respected this bodhisattva
and wanted everyone who saw the statue to understand this and perhaps
feel the same way.
If students look closely at an image of the
statue, they’ll find that some of Avalokiteshvara’s
hands form special gestures called mudras. Other hands
hold objects. One hand is holding a lotus flower, which symbolizes
purity. Explain that objects in many works of art from many countries
stand for ideas, events, or people. For example, U.S. money has
many symbols on it, which students can be asked to identify.
Avalokiteshvara is a compassionate bodhisattva, but others are wise,
bring good health, or are fair. Have students brainstorm values
that are important to them individually or in large or small groups.
Is courage important to them? How about honesty? Have students brainstorm
objects or animals that they associate with these values. For example,
if bravery is a value they admire, they might say it is symbolized
by a lion.
Point out that this artwork is a kind of
work known as a sculpture. Some sculptures are carved from larger
pieces, others are cast in molds, just as this work was. Today,
students will either shape their work from a larger lump of modeling
clay or add smaller pieces to form the figure they desire.
Instead of modeling a human figure holding
a symbol, ask students to make a large version of the symbol itself
to represent their values. Modeling clay to be shaped in the form
of the object and decorated with recycled objects that can themselves
be symbols. Display the figures in your class’s own museum
of powerful beings!
Search the database of the artwork that the Pacific Asia Museum
owns. [LINK] Can you find any other bodhisattvas? Any other artworks
showing Avalokiteshvara? How are they different than this sculpture?
How are they the same?
Visual Arts Standards: Discuss properties of works of art
such as color, shapes, forms, textures; identify and describe symbols
and icons; understand historical and cultural context of an artwork.