Artist statement (Yab-yum) – second draft

Artist statement


This artwork aims to make known a form of Esoteric Buddhism also known as Tantric/Vajrayana Buddhism. The yab-yum bronze icons of Tantric Buddhism often strike the layman as hedonistic celebrations of eroticism but are in fact meditational devices a Tantric worshipper uses. In this project titled The Sex Mudra Paradox, we tackle a paradoxical theme of religion & sex.

Due to the influence of sexual stereotypes and sexually suggestive content portrayed in mass media today, viewers of these objects may misinterpret the work and overlook the religious aspect of such artwork. This was also a reason that the Vajradhara and Prajnaparamita at the Asian Civilizations Museum particularly caught our attention with its non-conventional posture of a Buddha and a deity.

We feel the need to educate non-practitioners of the religion of its actual meaning as the imagery is often misunderstood and sexualized. The key meaning behind the union of a male and female in this yab-yum position aims to convey non-duality. However, when taken too literally, it conveys the exact opposite. The distortion of meaning has made it important to search for ways to represent this idea more accurately and less misleadingly.

We have designed a motion graphics poster  be projected along the common walkway of our school. Flaps are placed over the censored parts of the image, which contains a description slip to explain what they see. The visually striking image of the yab-yum seeks to attract students to take a closer look and interact with these flaps. They are also invited to take pictures and post on social media with the hashtag #itstotallynotsex

Through this sort of larger scale projection and interactivity, it ultimately aims to capture as many viewers’ attention, interact with the flaps and fix the misinterpretation of non-tantra practitioners.

295 words

Work Allocation

First draft: Val

First draft edit: Tiffany

Second draft: Val

#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. 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!


Research Assignment Proposal

The essay topic I have selected is on Chinese Tomb Art. I would like to address the various types of Chinese Tomb Art and compare an armored and an unarmored terracotta figure from the Qin dynasty, applying both visual and contextual analysis to my findings.

The article I will start with is a thought invoking article by Martin Joseph’s book:

Bibliography reference

  • Powers, Martin J., and Katherine R. Tsiang. 2016. A Companion To Chinese Art. Blackwell Publishing.

The book discusses on the rich belief of the afterlife among traditional Chinese that dates back to the Shang dynasty and how it employs different forms of funerary art used to reaffirm important cultural values such as filial piety.

The author also addresses a question for thought, whether funerary art can be considered “fine art” as there were no evidences of people regarding the tomb as a form of art in early China although tomb décor or individual artifacts might be admired for their artistry. He provides further evidence that mundane objects such as ceramics were not created as fine art but is now considered a work of collectible art during modern times.

These objects are mentioned by the author to serve their main purpose of honoring people of high-rank or to serve in ceremonial settings. Moving to the next level, author also questions whether “tomb art” actually does exists.

A possible outline for my essay is the following (sections and section headings subject to change):


  • Address how the Chinese have a strong belief in the afterlife and a spirit path to it that needed facilitating, hence the importance of tomb art.
  • What is tomb art and the various types of it (Chamber paintings, tomb pottery, ritual bronzes and guardian sculptures)
  • State that the focus of my essay on tomb art is on Terracotta figures and narrowed down to comparing and the similarities and differences between an armored infantryman and an unarmored infantryman.
  • State my claim of how the figures are carefully crafted individually and high level of intricate detail that allows it to be called a piece of fine art


  • Compares the similarity of Terracotta figures in terms of material, facial features and expression
  • Followed by comparing the differences in terms of pit placement, posture and the usage of weapons



  • Examines the unarmored Terracotta figure in terms of material, facial features, expression, pit placement, posture and the usage of weapons and provide contextual knowledge
  • Followed by examining the armored Terracotta figure in the same aspects as the previous one, also providing contextual referencing




  • How these details are crafted on the terracotta figures went through several levels of thought process and planning which translate it into a piece of fine art
  • The fact that it is an ‘eigth-wonder of the world’ tells a lot about the workmanship and the number of craftsmen that crafted this work of art