Photo Copies

Photo Copies

A photo essay. To view all 14 images, check out the email edition.

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“The ancient practice of hand-copying sacred scriptures has been a cornerstone of major religious traditions since the inception of writing,” says the pamphlet for Copying Sacred Texts, now exhibiting in Sterling Library’s Hanke Gallery. Today, its authors contend, “the practice, a heartfelt expression of devotion and prayer, resonates with the faithful and nonbelievers” alike, even “in an increasingly secular world.”

I’m not as confident in that as I am that both groups would be wowed by the exhibit’s material and historical assets: the rumpled dark paper and crisp dark ink of an 1,150-year-old Japanese Buddhist scroll; the colorful details of an illuminated Italian bible from 1428; the flowing “Chinese-style Arabic” script of a 17th-century Chinese qur’an; the intricate brushwork of scenes from Buddhist scripture by a present-day artist “breath life into a Korean tradition that is 1,700 years old.” But the curators, Jude Yang and Hwansoo Kim, are hoping for something more: that viewers won’t just be wowed but also inspired; that we’ll take up pen or brush and “experience the exceptional spiritual and aesthetic practice of hand-copying sacred texts” for ourselves.

Personally, I’m content with being wowed—unless these photographic copies count.

Written and photographed by Dan Mims.

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