Spending over a year in Southeast Asia, trekking through remote villages with no real idea of where to go sounds like something out of “Man vs. Wild.” But this is not a reality TV show, it’s the real life journey of Dr. Rebecca Hall, who spent time researching Buddhist art throughout the region.
Overall, Hall spent 11 months in Thai and Laos and four months in Cambodia working on her dissertation about Buddhist art, particularly textile banners hung in monasteries. She spoke last February about these banners, however this time she focused on her journey and the connections she made with locals.
Her passion for these banners began not through visiting as a tourist but through her discovery of a book called “Textiles and the Tai Experience in Southeast Asia.” She read about banners hung in Buddhist monasteries, which took her interest. “I love when art and religion intersect,” she said.
Three to four years after the discovery she was off to Asia, unsure if the banners still existed. She knew how to speak Thai, Lao and a little bit of Khmer (the language spoken in Cambodia).
“I wandered around looking for art,” Hall said, summarizing her travels in the three countries. She wandered through villages, mountains, rivers and tested out public transportation.
“At times, I asked myself, ‘Rebecca, what are you doing?’” said Hall.
However, the beauty of the country trumped her doubts. “When I discovered that there is no uniform architecture is when I fell in love with my research,” Hall said. “The most important thing in my research was the people.”
She met monks, novices (young monks), weavers, seamstresses and just regular people, all who gave her insight into the creation and meaning of the banners. She learned that even though they are Buddhist, people that hang these banners are concerned with going to heaven. The banners represent a ladder or way to heaven.
“I hate it when people ask if they’re really Buddhist if they’re worried about Heaven,” said Hall. “To me, [the banners] are Buddhist because they are hung in a Buddhist monastery.”
Hall’s journey taught her about the deep connection the people of these countries have with their religion. She also appreciated beauty in all pieces of art, no matter who the artist.
“Beauty was the thing I took away most,” she said.
The crowd was small but they were receptive to her story. Senior Nemesis Zambrano, who is currently working on an SMP about Buddhist art, especially enjoyed it. “I really enjoyed [her lecture] due to her enthusiasm about her work,” Zambrano said. “It gave me flashbacks of when I visited China, Vietnam and Thailand during sophomore year.”
Hall currently works at the Walters Art Museum as the Mellow Curatorial Fellow of Asian Art. She compiles research about Southeast Asian art and artifacts.
Economics professor Ho Nguyen arranged the event even though he had “no prior knowledge about Buddhist art.” In two weeks he has arranged for another speaker, Alezandra Russel, to come and talk about teenage prostitution in Thai and her organization “Urban Light” that helps teenage male prostitutes. It will be held on September 20 at 4:15 in the Library, room 321.