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Art History in Context: Exploring Vietnam's Temples

Professor Ariana Maki knew that for students in her History of Art course, visiting a museum just wouldn't do. Instead, she designed a unique field lab that took the students on a journey around Ho Chi Minh City to visit three distinct temples. The trip enabled them to view the artistic concepts they're studying back on the ship in a real world context. “I wanted the students to see that the way we usually view art in museums is divorced from context,” Maki said. “By visiting these temples they can better understand that each thing we study is created in a ritual context for a specific purpose.”

Students file in through the courtyard of the Jade Emperor Pagoda as two women offer up flowers and incense at a small alter.
Kaitlyn Shults (California Baptist University) takes a moment to appreciate the main alter of the Jade Emperor Pagoda and its golden Buddha statue. “It’s definitely a different experience to see something on a slideshow in class and then to walk into a temple and see it in real life. The smells and the people praying around you make it feel so real.”
Tang Lu Qiao, an international student from Wuhan University, reads the Chinese characters on a wood carving and shares its meaning with her classmates Olivia Foy (University of New Hampshire) and Abby Miller (Colorado State University), along with Professor Ariana Maki. “That’s a series of four different pictures depicting hell,” she explains. “They use the carving to teach people that life is long, so why would you be in such a rush to do bad things?”
[Left] A Vietnamese woman lights a candle on the alter of the Jade Emperor Pagoda;  [Right] Strings of New Years decorations crisscross the courtyard of the Vinh Nghiem Temple in front of its seven story tower.
Student, Kay Bitzer, of Boston University looks on as worshipers fill a large pot with incense sticks outside the Vinh Nghiem Temple in Ho Chi Minh.
Offerings of fruit and incense cover an alter in the Vinh Nghiem Temple in honor of deceased family members.
[Left] Buddhist monks take part in a three-day long chanting session in honor of the Vietnamese New Year.  [Right] Sarah Kluger (College of Charleston) looks up at a statue of an angry looking god flanking the entrance of the Vinh Nghiem Temple that is meant to protect the temple from evil. “They’re not actually angry,” Kluger explains as she recounts what she learned in a previous class session, “but you don’t want to disappoint them.”
Students, Kay Bitzer (Boston University), Danielle Karman (Michigan State University), and Charlie Mahoney (University of Iowa) get a good laugh when fellow classmate, Kirk MacDonald (far left), of the University of Colorado Boulder accidentally lights the wrong end of an incense stick. “I didn’t know!,” he laughed.
[Left] The entrance of the Thien Hau Temple in Ho Chi Minh where students had an opportunity to view the unique porcelain dioramas decorating the roof.  [Right] Jim Finley of Indiana University Bloomington looks up at an intricately carved sculpture made of wood and bronze. “It’s much better than seeing it at a museum,” he says. “When you see the people here in the temple and what this sculpture means to them, it has a whole new meaning to me.”
Professor Ariana Maki chats with student, Charlie Mahoney (University of Iowa), and Susan Kahn (a Lifelong Learner who is auditing the class) about their impressions from the day while eating dinner in downtown Ho Chi Minh.
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