What can visual material tell us about Buddhist conceptions of embodiment and one’s experience with the world? Traditionally, an embodied individual locates its subjectivity vis a vis a perceived internal, thinking self and its relationship to a given external other. This engagement is facilitated through both the sensori-motor functions of the body responding to external stimuli and the reciprocal imposition of social and cultural factors onto those interactions. Buddhism, however, rejects fundamentally the paradigm of a fixed, eternal self, positing instead that a sentient being exists as a continuum of material and mental processes. Given this notion of the no-self and the concomitant rejection of gender as a fixed category, how might studies of Buddhist artifacts directly engage theories of gender fluidity, queerness, and the performative and constructed aspects of gender? 

With this question in mind, this panel addresses the ways in which visual material participated in historical discourses on the nature embodied experience and the status of body types in the Buddhist soteriological project. How is the perfected body visually represented? How do images, sculptural works, and other media engage with the body, or transform the body of both subject and viewer? Do visual materials complicate or contradict textually defined bodies?

Presenters and Paper Titles


Discussant: Kevin Carr

Youn-mi Kim - Textile, Talismans, and Incantation: Tracing Female Agency in Chosŏn Buddhist Practice

Yuhang Li - Anthropomorphizing Icons through Gendered Bodies: Rethinking Chen Hongshou’s Dharma Likeness of Cundi Buddha Mother

Carolyn Wargula - Silk, Hair, and Gold: Materializing Women in Embroideries of Amida’s Welcoming Descent

Melissa McCormick - Ōtagaki Rengetsu’s Haptic Poetics and the Non-Self