Denver Art Museum and Kingdom of Cambodia Collaborate On Exhibition Exploring Cultural Significance of Ganesha

Sculptures, paintings and textiles chronicle representations of the deity from 5th century through 20th century

The Denver Art Museum (DAM) today announced a new exhibition, Ganesha: The Playful Protector, opening at the museum Oct. 1, 2017. Developed in collaboration with The National Museum of Cambodia in Phnom Penh, the exhibition was inspired by a cultural exchange following the DAM’s return of the 10th century Torso of Rama to the Kingdom in early 2016.

Ganesha, 600s-700s, Cambodia. Sandstone; 29.1 x 24.8 in. Lent by the National Museum of Cambodia.

As part of an ongoing collaboration, the National Museum is loaning a statue of Ganesha, from the 7th to8th century that will form the centerpiece of the exhibition. The 29-inch tall cross-legged figure, featuring human arms and an elephant head, is known as one of the earliest Ganesha icons in mainland Southeast Asia. This significant pre-Angkor artwork, along with 17 additional sculptures, paintings and textiles from the DAM’s own collection depicting the Hindu deity, will be on view through Oct. 28, 2018.

“We’re grateful to our colleagues in Cambodia for sharing their incredible history and heritage with our visitors in the Rocky Mountain region,” said Christoph Heinrich, Frederick and Jan Mayer Director of the DAM. “Direct engagement with works of art is invaluable for communities to learn about cultures from around the world. We look forward to exploring additional opportunities with the National Museum on initiatives that deepen this type of cross-cultural connection and exchange.”

Ganesha, who has been widely worshiped since the 5th century, originated in India as a Hindu god who removes obstacles and is known for granting wealth and success. Ganesha has crossed both geographic and religious boundaries, inspiring numerous representations throughout the Asian subcontinent over time—all of which will be surveyed in the exhibition to showcase the iconographic changes of this popular god.

“The exhibition will trace Ganesha’s story of becoming one of the most worshiped deities in Hinduism and even in the Buddhist and Jain religious traditions,” said Tianlong Jiao, Joseph de Heer Curator of Asian Art of the DAM. “The narrative will highlight the diversity and the continuity of the worship of Ganesha in South and Southeast Asia.”

Additional ancient to modern representations of Ganesha from India, Nepal and Burma will be featured in the exhibition. Interactive exhibition features will include a two-foot tall touchable Ganesha sculpture, and a video profiling the Ganesha Chaturthi festival, which is attended by millions of Hindu devotees annually who give the deity offerings. Ganesha: The Playful Protector will be included in general museum admission, and on view in the Hamilton Building in the Harmsen Gallery.

A cultural exchange between the DAM and the Kingdom of Cambodia was initiated when DAM returned the Torso of Rama, a 10th century Khmer sandstone sculpture that had been in the museum’s collection for nearly 30 years. The return followed the uncovering of new provenance facts related to the piece that were not available to the museum when it was acquired in 1986. Ganesha: The Playful Protector follows an agreement between the DAM and National Museum of Cambodia to explore areas of cooperation including exhibition loans, object conservation, staff skill exchanges, educational programs and publications.

Exhibition Sponsors

Ganesha: The Playful Protector is organized by the DAM. It is presented with the generous support of the donors to the Annual Fund Leadership Campaign and the citizens who support the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD). Promotional support is provided by 5280 Magazine, CBS4, Comcast Spotlight and The Denver Post.

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About The Denver Art Museum

The Denver Art Museum is an educational, nonprofit resource that sparks creative thinking and expression through transformative experiences with art. Its holdings reflect the city and region—and provide invaluable ways for the community to learn about cultures from around the world. Metro citizens support the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD), a unique funding source serving hundreds of metro Denver arts, cultural and scientific organizations. For museum information, call 720-865-5000 or visit

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