A Short Discourse on Curation – Spencer Corpuz

From Ms. Motture’s presentation last week, two things struck me in particular: the idea of narration through collection and the curator’s relationship with visitors to the gallery. For me, the line between curator and art historian comes down to their relationship with the objects themselves. Both the curator and the art historian can study an object and its significance in a greater context, but there is something about the creation of a gallery that seems like an art form in itself. Like a historian, a curator may only utilize objects from a certain time period–for example, Renaissance art in the case of Ms. Motture–but the curator has the advantage of utilizing space, as well as the objects themselves. A trip to a museum becomes a very different experience from reading an history book about the subject. When I visited the Academia in Florence, for example, witnessing the actual statue of Michaelangelo’s David in the flesh gave me a certain connection that I had not felt seeing countless pictures of the same statue before. When I was in the gallery, I felt in a sense placed in history. A history book or image is confined in the sense that the object can only be experienced in the mind–one cannot get a true sense of an object’s grandeur from a small photograph. When I read about the works or look at images of them, I feel that there exists some kind of barrier between me and my full experience of it-some part of me inside acknowledges that no matter how hard I try, I know that what I look at or read about is not real. When I looked upon the sculptures in the gallery, the piece came alive for me: I think its impact became validated through its relationship of space with me. Standing next to the centuries-old David and looking at the piece chiseled by Michelangelo himself, I could relate to it directly. Such is the power that the curator holds over the historian, I believe. 


I am not saying that history books are inferior to galleries. In many ways, a history book can explore the themes and context surrounding an object to far greater detail than a small plaque next to the work itself. However, the one advantage that narration in galleries holds is that sense of spacial relationship with an object, or the “physical connection” that Motture writes about in her piece. It is for this reason that the placement and choice of objects to present becomes a work of art in itself – in one way, the pieces are works, but the way the curator displays them can influence how we relive how they might have been experienced – for example, the way the Italian dowry boxes had been presented off the ground at a height where they might have been carried for the viewers to see.

Lastly, the idea of the viewer’s influence also got me thinking. What would be viewer’s preconceptions of an object going into it? How much does a museum have to cater to what the viewer wants to know and see? Such questions leave me torn: I know that Motture referred to the context of a viewer’s academic background when choosing how to display objects, but, taken to an extreme, I get the sense a museum may find itself pressured to just put on display what people want to see. Such an idea really makes the concept of making a particular facet of history interesting for an otherwise indifferent audience hit home.


The Art of War: Mughal Cavalryman – Spencer Corpuz



Can war itself ever be beautiful? Perhaps not, but if anything, its trappings often tell a lot about the culture for which an army stands. As with books, paintings, maps and objects, the warrior himself becomes an icon of culture. Everything from the armor he wears to the weapons he represents his heritage. In effect, the warrior not only carries these arms into battle, but he carries his culture, spreading this cultural heritage by the sword as a book would spread ideas between the minds.


The above picture depicts the barding and armor of a Mughal cavalryman. Like his leaders, who were responsible for the spread of Islam throughout South Asia, his trappings reflect those of Arab and Islamic warriors. Characteristic of Islamic armor was the rounded plate helmet, and the coif that covered the chin and face, often made of chainmail. These items would have been worn in tandem with plate armor on the body and arms. The warrior also carries a round embossed shield, another key component carried by Islamic warriors, which, along with the quiver strapped to his hip, display intricate patterns in blue and gold trim. Even the legs of his bow come decorated with alternating zigzag patterns.

The barding on the horse is unlike any I have other seen either. It seems to be made out of plate armor, but unlike many other displays of barding I had seen, the armor contains intricate detail.The plate has been fashioned in marked strips, with pairs of concentric circles by the rear leg, front leg, and neck of the horse.



Not only does the armor and weaponry serve a functional purpose, but they are also works of art in themselves, and contain the most discerning details. The warrior becomes both fearsome and beautiful to behold, fully displayed and armored. For the Mughals, who founded their empire upon conquest of the Southern Lands, this warrior provided the vehicle by which their influence spread, both politically and culturally. Armed in this way with traditional Islamic armor, he became a symbol for Islamic Mughal ideology in the same way words written in Persian had.  


Not only does the warrior icon bring up the question of the culture they represent, but it also poses a greater question: why do people go to such lengths to combine art and war? Beyond the example of functional equipment, many armies developed highly intricate coats of arms abundant with symbols of flowers and animals. They carried the standards of their generals, emblazoned with personal crests and heraldry. In function, these symbols were used to identify the combatants during the battle: battles would frequently become chaotic, and the bright colors and standards helped to identify friend from foe. But something seems to go beyond that in the way the warriors decorated themselves for war. Not only did these icons serve to identify the warrior’s allegiance, but it also seemed to define the warrior’s identity. Often times, warriors were one among legions, and in battle, it perhaps was very easy to feel like an unknown amongst endless ranks (the concept of the unknown soldier is a theme that has been explored in depth today, but I feel like the need for identification in this regard is not a new concept). 

One’s armor and weapons, then, became the icons in which a warrior could define and express himself, and in the grand scheme, icons which could become key symbols of the culture for which these armies fought. In the same way the Roman gladius was unique to the legionnaires, the icon of the Mongol horse archer, a heritage adopted by the Mughals, became feared throughout the world at the time, and could unmistakably be associated with its rulers riding in to conquer the land both for the rulers and for their art, religion, and ideas.

RUMI Assignment – Spencer Corpuz

Only Breath


Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu, 
Buddhist, sufi, or zen. Not any religion


Or cultural system.

I am a human creation.


A shadow on the wall

I veil truth in sound and letter.


I, the created create.

Drawn by the strings of the yearning soul


To articulate, exhilirate,

prognosticate, contemplate

and love.


Belong to the beloved, but born of the lover.

Ride the rhythmic beatings of the heart.


Breathe in – behold the beauty of a fading world.

Breathe out whatever the soul catches hold of.


Up from within, I come with longing

Reflections in a pond of still water

Yet my fumbling utterances only cause ripples.


Information flows, but meaning stutters

If no one can hear me, do I exist?


If no one can feel my sighs

Am I silenced?


I shout, and moan,

I sigh and sing.


Yet I can only point.


For in the end, like the comet

streaking across the twilight,


I came from nothing

And to nothing I return.