Step into a Burmese temple built between the late seventeenth and early nineteenth centuries and you are surrounded by a riot of color and imagery. The majority of the highly detailed wall paintings displays Buddhist biographical narratives, inspiring the devotees to follow the Buddha’s teachings. Yet, the temples and their contents must be viewed as a whole, with the wall paintings mediating the relationships between the architecture and the main Buddha statues and thereby forging a unified space for devotees to interact with the Buddha and his community. These temples were a cohesively articulated and represented Burmese Buddhist world to which the devotees belonged and which aimed to transform practitioners’ lives in the present and future.
Alexandra Green is Henry Ginsburg Curator for Southeast Asia at the British Museum. She has a PhD in Southeast Asian Art History from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London and has written and edited numerous articles and books on the topic. Her books include Buddhist Visual Cultures, Rhetoric, and Narrative in Late Burmese Wall Paintings (2018), Burmese Silver from the Colonial Period (2022), and Southeast Asia: A History in Objects based on the British Museum’s collections (February 2023). Past exhibition and book projects include work on Sir Stamford Raffles for the Asian Civilisations Museum in Singapore and the British Museum in 2019. Currently, she is preparing an exhibition of Myanmar history and art for the British Museum in November 2023.