For this paper, you will choose an object of religious art currently on display at either the Royal Ontario Museum or the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto. This must be an object that you have visited and seen yourself. You will research the context that produced it, and objects similar to it, to form an argument about how the image functioned historically for the religious community that produced it, and compare that at the end of your paper to its present function in this museum. First, you will choose a work of religious art currently on display at the Royal Ontario Museum or the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, by visiting one of these museums. When you visit you should look over relevant galleries for at least an hour before choosing an object to work on. Once you have chosen one, you should take photographs of your object and its attendant labels and thematic texts. Then you should sketch the piece for at least 15 minutes, this will encourage you to look at it slowly. For your paper, you will analyze the object you choose in relation to how it functioned in relationship to religious communities and religious practices historically and conclude that with a discussion of its present function in the context of a museum. You should theorize how the object formerly, in the time and place that produced it, fulfilled two functions. For this, you will use a reading provided by David Morgan, “Visual Practice and the Function of Images” from The Sacred Gaze, a chapter in which he enumerates seven functions of religious images:1. Order space and time 2. Imagine community 3. Communicate with the divine or transcendent 4.Embody forms of communion with the divine 5. Collaborate with other forms of representation 6. Influence thought and behavior by persuasion or magic 7. Displace rival images and ideologies. While you will need to do outside research and reading on the history of your object and the context that produced it, you do not need to do any outside reading on the functions of images.
You will want your argument to be specific, grounded in real observations about the object(material, size, shape, use, where and how it was used) and its current display(lighting, label, thematic text), so take careful notes of these elements when you visit it and support this with taking many photos. Note where and how the object is positioned and what story it is being used to tell. For the historic section and functions, you will have to research how the object was made—guessing who the craftsmen and patrons may have been and how it was likely used in the time, place, and religious context that produced it.
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