During my lunch break yesterday, I dashed across the Mall to see the Asian Games exhibit at the Sackler Gallery, which is sponsored in part by my employer (an article on Asian Games was featured in the July/August 2004 Humanities Magazine).

The exhibit is split into four sections (see the webpage above for some images and a Flash-driven online gallery). Chance looks at dice games, early forms of Snakes & Ladders, pachisi (what we know as Parcheesi), including some absolutely beautiful pachisi pieces. The Snakes & Ladders game boards were wonderful examples of teaching ethics and culture through games, as each board emphasized a culturally-appropriate morality in climbing ladders – and vice in the snakes. The exhibit includes a board (on paper) specific to Islam, where the images were removed (in an aversion to iconography) and only words describing virtues and vices led to a heavenly temple of some sort at the top of the board.

The Strategy section displayed games like chess, weiqi (go), and backgammon. Many of the chess sets are elaborately beautiful, ranging from the Elephants and Viziers from India (where chess originated in the 6th century) to the Kings and Queens later used in England. By this time, I was rushing to get back, but managed to sprint through the remaining two sections. Matching and Memory included cards, dominos, mahjong, and other matching games, such as a Japanese shell game that had the first lines of a poem on one shell, and the last lines on another. This assumes, of course, that you know the hundred or so poems in the collection. The final section, Power and Dexterity, looked at sports like polo and kickball (not the playground type). In all sections, displays of actual games are coupled with images of actual game play, emphasizing how common and influential games were in the various Asian cultures.

The exhibit closes May 15, so you only have a few days left. For those of you who are interested, but can’t make the trip to DC, you should consider purchasing the 325-page Asian Games Exhibit Catalogue, which is a huge, gorgeous book that is on sale for $9.99 (normally $45). You can’t beat that.


2 Responses to Asian Games: The Art of the Contest

  1. Matt K. says:

    Still haven’t seen it. Thanks for the tip on the catalog though–amazing deal.

  2. Jason says:

    Seriously, the catalogue – at that price – is a steal. I almost by-passed the store, because the catalogues on display in the gallery only had the regular list price.

    If you don’t pick one up, mine is available for a loan. But I think you would like the strategy section, and probably some parts of the matching collection.

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