Last February, Shakeel Hossain, a visiting scholar in the Aga Khan Program, single-handedly organized and curated a display for the 19th International Exhibition of the Triennale de Milano which explored the artistic diversity of ritual architecture in India. That show, The Ephemeral, The Transient, The Static: Ritual Architecture and Urbanity, is now being installed at MIT and will open at the School of Architecture and Planning's Wolk Gallery (Rm 7-338) with a reception on Sunday, Nov. 10 from 5-7pm.
The Milan show included photographs and three architecturally intricate, ritualistic structures-each about 25 feet tall by 10 feet wide-made specially in India. The MIT version includes the original three mobile structures as well as six smaller structures also commissioned from Indian craftsmen. The larger edifices are the ta'zia (the symbolic tomb of Imam Husain, the grandson of the prophet Mohammad), the rath (a mobile temple of the Hindu gods and goddesses) and the pandal (a temporary pavilion for the goddess Durga).
Mr. Hossain asserted that modern skyscrapers lack any identifiable national origin and that instant global telecommunication leads to greater conformity. Unlike modern buildings, which strive for permanence, he said, these samples of ritual architecture aren't meant to be lasting, but are ephemeral and transient, "placing romance against efficiency."
For example, the ta'zia procession is a mourning ritual which ends when the elaborately ornate structure symbolizing Husain's tomb is buried or submerged. "Western minds don't understand how the results of so much work and love can be destroyed," Mr. Hossain said. "But, as part of the ritual, it's affirming and not destructive. Community is formed through spiritual celebrations."
This spring, Mr. Hossain plans to create such a community at MIT, bringing together students, faculty and spectators with the craftsmen from India to build new structures and conduct workshops on the interaction between tradition and innovation. "My dream is watching from the Lobby 7 balcony as MIT students measure and assemble the structures," said Professor Attilio Petruccioli, acting Aga Khan Program director.
Ritual Architecture and Urbanity has received support from the Aga Khan Trust for Culture in Geneva, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations in New Delhi, the Office of the Dean of the MIT School of Architecture and Planning, the MIT Museum and the MIT Council for the Arts. For information on the exhibition, call Kimberly A. Shilland at x8-9106.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 6, 1996.