Unlike any Japanese object before them, the jeweled pagoda mandalas challenge viewers to discern word from picture. Analyzing their production and the complicated process of viewing a surface that refuses strict delimitation as text or image and as relic or reliquary reveals these mandalas to be visualizations of the Buddha’s body. The paintings collapse distinction with indivisibility while the constant slippage of signifier into signified escapes rigid duality, a realization urged by the surface’s perlocutionary effect. These singular works uncover underlying dynamics in premodern Japanese Buddhist art, such as invisibility, performativity, and an increasingly textualized visual world.
- Japanese art