Museum of International Folk Art

Sacred Realm: Blessings and Good Fortune across Asia

January 28, 2016


Santa Fe is the perfect city for the soon-to-open exhibition Sacred Realm: Blessings and Good Fortune across Asia. The City of Holy Faith could just as easily be called the City of Many Faiths. From the Natives who considered it a spiritually abundant place, to the Catholics arriving here before the Pilgrim’s, to today’s large communities of Sikhs, Buddhists, and New Age practitioners.

Sacred Realm runs from February 28 through March 19, 2017 at the Museum of International Folk Art on Museum Hill in Santa Fe.

Sacred Realm highlights the museum’s own wide-ranging Asian collection exploring such beliefs as magical protection, blessings, and good fortune. What this exhibition presents are interesting similarities within the many countries and regions making up Asia. At best Asia is a construct; for what we think of as one “Asia” is in fact comprised of more than 50 countries, thousands of ethnic groups, more than ten language families (encompassing two thousand plus spoken languages), and is the birthplace to such “world religions” as Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam as well as many local religions. And Santa Fe is both microcosm and mirror for a similar diversity of belief systems.

Sacred Realm shows the dynamic ways people communicate their ideas of the supernatural, divine, or sacred world (such as God, deities, nature spirits, or other kinds of unseen forces). Almost universally, yet through varied means and belief systems, people have found ways to connect with these powers to bring stability to their lives, to divert ill-will and harm, and to attract love, fertility, prosperity, longevity, and safety – essentially, to harness protection, blessings, and good fortune for themselves, their loved ones, and their communities.

Exhibition curator Felicia Katz-Harris explains that, “Oftentimes, when Asian art is exhibited as a survey of a museum’s collection, it is presented either geographically or chronologically. This exhibit is unique in that it is presented thematically. In this way, we see the commonalities across Asian cultures and religions.”  

Sacred Realm features amulets, votive offerings, and ritual objects imbued with other-worldly, divine qualities. Whether used in sacred dance, to pray or help individuals show gratitude or ask for specific favors, to interact with ancestors and deities, or to ward off evil and attract positivity, these objects are means to similar ends. Katz-Harris notes, “The exhibit reflects wide-ranging practices of belief that, at the same time, depict the common human desire to attain balance and harmony in the physical and spiritual realms of life.”

Among diverse Asian cultures similarities can be found in objects’ functions as well as in their appearance. Box or tube shaped amulets containing sacred scripture or images are seen from the Mediterranean to Southeast Asia. Magical squares – geometric designs containing esoteric numerical formulas or acronyms are found in Hindu, Jewish, Islamic, and Buddhist amulets. Magical squares are also seen as tattoos throughout South and Southeast Asia, and even in parts of the Middle East – embedding the magic into the physical body for protection. Engaging interactive software will allow visitors to learn about these and tattoos and to share their own tattoos and meanings with the community.

Appropriately for this exhibition, the museum’s exhibit team worked with a certified Feng Shui designer to spiritually balance the gallery, incorporating basic principles of color and object placement to aid the gallery’s harmony and flow. In selecting and interpreting objects from the Museum’s collection, the exhibition team worked with a Balinese Hindu Brahmin, a Tibetan Rinpoche, a Tibetan Lama, Thai Buddhist monks and spiritual masters, an Islamic Cultural Center, scholars of Asian religion, and three local Jewish Rabbis.  

Audiences will enjoy engaging in-gallery activities such as making amulets and creating offerings. The museum is planning programs throughout the run of the exhibit including dance and music performances, lectures, demonstrations, special art workshops, and more.

Exhibition Opening Day Events From 1 to 4pm there will be activities for the entire family and from 2 to 4 pm the Women’s Board of the Museum of New Mexico will host a reception. 1pm •Opening remarks by exhibition curator Felicia Katz-Harris (MOIFA’s Senior Curator, Asian Art) 1 to 4pm •Make a Khamsas, an amulet/good luck charm in the form of a decorated and stylized hand and Ema, small decorated wooden plaques like the one’s Japanese Shinto worshippers write their prayers or wishes on. •Gamelan Encantada will perform Javanese Temple Music •Henna artists will paint blessings on your hand 2pm and again at 3pm •Quang Minh Lion Dancers 3pm Trupti PanickorTravedi will perform Bharatanatyam-style traditional Indian dance and the Potala Dance Troupe will perform traditional Tibetan dance and song.

Funding for this exhibition provided by: E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, Cotsen Family Foundation Funds, International Folk Art Foundation, Museum of New Mexico Foundation, and the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs.

Media Contacts: Steve Cantrell, PR Manager 505-476-1144

Felicia Katz-Harris, Senior Curator and Curator of Asian Folk Art 505-476-1221



The Museum of International Folk Art is a division of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs. The mission of the Museum of International Folk Art is to foster understanding of the traditional arts to illuminate human creativity and shape a humane world.” Founded in 1953 by Florence Dibell Bartlett, the museum holds the world’s largest international folk art collection of more than 150,000 objects from six continents and over 150 nations.Over 90,000 national and international visitors visit the Museum International Folk Art every year. Through folk art, the museum encourages all to find a common ground upon which to craft better lives for all.

INFORMATION FOR THE PUBLICLOCATION: On Museum Hill, 706 Camino Lejo, off the Old Santa Fe Trail, in Santa Fe New Mexico. Abundant free parking

HOURS: Tue – Sun, 10am to 5pm

ADMISSION: Adult single-museum admission is $6 for New Mexico residents, $9 for out-of-state visitors; Students with I.D. receive a one-dollar discount. Wednesdays: New Mexico resident seniors (60+) with I.D. are free. Sundays: New Mexico residents with I.D. are admitted free. Youth 16 and under and Museum of New Mexico Foundation Members always free.

Museum exhibitions and programs are supported by donors to the Museum of New Mexico Foundation and its Director’s Leadership Fund, Exhibitions Development Fund, and Fund for Museum Education, as well as by the International Folk Art Foundation, also established by museum founder Florence Dibell Bartlett.The museum’s collections represent a broad range of global artists whose artistic expressions make Santa Fe an international crossroads of culture. For many visitors, fascination with folk art begins upon seeing the whimsical toys and traditional objects within the Girard Collection. For others, the international textiles, ceramics, carvings and other cultural treasures in the Neutrogena Collection provide the allure.  The museum’s historic and contemporary Latino and Hispano folk art collections, spanning the Spanish Colonial period to modern-day New Mexico, reflect how artists respond to their time and place in ways both delightful and sobering. In 2010, the museum opened the Mark Naylor and Dale Gunn Gallery of Conscience, where a series of exhibitions encourage visitors to exchange ideas on complex issues of human rights and social justice.

Related Photos

Barong Ket mask
Barong Ket mask (DETAIL)
Spirit House and offerings for the Spirit of the Land
Spirit House and offerings for the Spirit of the Land (detail)
Spirit House and offerings for the Spirit of the Land (detail)
Amay Yay-Yin Nat, Shan Culture, Early 20th century
Various Talismanic Necklaces
Ga’u (portable altar or amulet box), tsa tsa (votive offering with sacred image) featuring Avolokiteshevara, wood block printed prayer flags, and carrying case
Detail of Barong mask
Amulets at Wororot Market
Erawan Shrine, Bangkok, Thailand
Foo Dogs
Magic Squares, Various
Shaman’s ritual implements with Pan Hung figures, Yao culture (early to mid-20th century), Vietnam
Spirit House, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Thai Buddhist Offering

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