#itstotallynotsex – The Sex Mudra Paradox

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Vajradhara and Prajnaparamita Nepal/ Tibet, 14th or 15th century Gilded copper alloy

Key things to note about the object

  • Vajradhara is a form of the historical Buddha found in Esoteric Buddhism
  • Prajnaparamita: the Perfection of (Transcendent) Wisdom; Union represents attainment of knowledge
  • Yabyum posture: tantric sexual embrace (tantra)

What we see is an object from Asian Civilisation’s Museum. Let’s bring our attention to the posture itself. Despite being known as the sexual union, the yab-yum position is not about sex.

Hmm..so what is this Yab-yum all about?

Yab-Yum is the symbol of divine union. It is the posture in which man and women are united between Heaven and Earth: a classic meditation posture

But when taken too literally, its meaning is misunderstood and translated entirely opposite.

Ha, gotcha sick minds.

But pardon yourselves, when we saw the object at ACM, our reactions were epic:

Ruotong: I thought both are homosexual or something, no offense

Val: *rolling on floor laughing* while wondering if this is a legit museum item or someone just did something blasphemous

Tiff: Holy **** <- well, literally.

Why we chose it

This definitely stood out among the rest with the reaction and attention of other museum goers that walked past it. Also, everyone else was choosing Yakshi and we weren’t really inspired by the pieces of ceramics. We knew we needed something that could capture the attention of audience for the purpose of educating them. (not making use of a glib sexual visual *cough* *yakshi*)


Short-term goal: Let our audiences know more about Tantric Buddhism and learn to view things in different point of view.

Long-term goal: Make the society more open to different form of arts/culture/point of views.

Essentially, to educate the audience on esotericism in art and perhaps religion, since both are interdependent.

And finally, The Claim

From the above, we gathered that A yab-yum icon is misleading in many ways due to its anthropomorphic form, hence the idea of it is sexualized. 

Revised claim

After more thought process, I’ll argue that the Yab-yum is actually about gender and not sex.

Why so?

  • Yab-yum literally translates to “father-mother” in Tibetan.
  • In Indian Tantra it is about the masculine as a passive meditator with the feminine as a dancing shakti in his lap… pure awareness meeting pure energy.
  • And more points to be added in the artist statement

So what’re the mediums?


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We are most likely going with the motion poster, where it will be projected on the walls somewhere around level 2 of ADM.

There will be physical flaps of black paper which invites people to open them; description of the poses will written to enlighten the audience

Social Media Movement

Also, we aim for beautiful visuals for the projection so students will take photos in front of the projection and create their artsy Instagram shot, coupled with the hashtag #itstotallynotsex to start the ball rolling on educating the public about esoteric buddhism.


Anderson, Sam. Watching People Watching People Watching. New York: Times Magazine, 25 November 2011.

Niyogi, Puspa. Buddhist Divinities. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers, 2001.

Shaw, Miranda Eberle. Buddhist Goddesses of India. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006

Shaw, Miranda. Passionate enlightenment: Women in tantric Buddhism. Princeton University Press, 1995.

Davidson, Ronald M. Tibetan renaissance: Tantric Buddhism in the rebirth of Tibetan culture. Columbia University Press, 2005.

Special Thanks

For all the great fun this sem G7! You guys were a hilarious and fun group that made me excited for art history tutorials on Thursdays! And thanks Sujatha for the tea parties and samosas! Appreciate the thought! See everyone during the critique next week!


Published by

Val Lay


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