Dark Energy

Islamic art curator Navina Haidar contemplates the power of objects that are darkly energetic.

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...another world, far more elemental...

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  • Navina Haidar
    1280818
  • The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters: Plate 43 of The Caprices (Los Caprichos)  |  1799  |  Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (Spanish)  |  Etching, aquatint, drypoint, and burin  |  Gift of M. Knoedler & Co., 1918 (18.64)
    7231024
  • Tomb guardian (zhenmushou)  |  Northern Wei to Northern Qi dynasties, mid- to late 6th century  |  China  |  Earthenware with pigment  |  Purchase, Ann Eden Woodward Foundation Gift, 1979 (1979.438)
    8291024
  • Mangaaka Power Figure (Nkisi N'Kondi)  |  second half of 19th century  |  Democratic Republic of Congo or Angola, Chiloango River Region; Kongo  |  Wood, metal, resin, enamel  |  Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace, Drs. Daniel and Marian Malcolm, Laura G. and James J. Ross, Jeffrey B. Soref, The Robert T. Wall Family, Dr. and Mrs. Sidney G. Clyman, and Steven Kossak Gifts, 2008 (2008.30)
    6131024
  • The Vision of Saint John  |  1608–14  |  El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) (Greek)  |  Oil on canvas (top truncated)  |  Rogers Fund, 1956 (56.48)
    9101024
  • The Vision of Saint John  |  1608–14  |  El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) (Greek)  |  Oil on canvas (top truncated)  |  Rogers Fund, 1956 (56.48)
    12801006
  • View of Toledo  |  ca. 1597  |  El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) (Greek)  |  Oil on canvas  |  H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.6)
    9141024
  • View of Toledo  |  El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) (Greek)  |  Oil on canvas  |  H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.6)
    12541024
  • Border #8  |  1997–98  |  Michal Rovner (Israeli)  |  Paint on canvas  |  Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, 1999 (1999.240)  |  © Michal Rovner
    1280998
  • Yama  |  mid-17th–early 18th century  |  Tibet  |  Distemper on cloth  |  Purchase, Florance Waterbury Bequest, 1969 (69.71)
    7131024
  • Yama  |  mid-17th–early 18th century  |  Tibet  |  Distemper on cloth  |  Purchase, Florance Waterbury Bequest, 1969 (69.71)
    9071024
  • Yama  |  mid-17th–early 18th century  |  Tibet  |  Distemper on cloth  |  Purchase, Florance Waterbury Bequest, 1969 (69.71)
    1280839
  • Chamunda, the Horrific Destroyer of Evil  |  10th–11th century  |  India, Madhya Pradesh  |  Sandstone  |  Purchase, Anonymous Gift and Rogers Fund, 1989 (1989.121)
    7221024
  • Chamunda, the Horrific Destroyer of Evil  |  10th–11th century  |  India, Madhya Pradesh  |  Sandstone  |  Purchase, Anonymous Gift and Rogers Fund, 1989 (1989.121)
    12211024
  • The Goddess Bhairavi Devi with Shiva  |  ca. 1630–35  |  India  |  Opaque watercolor and gold on paper  |  Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 2011 (2011.409)
    1280886
  • The Goddess Bhairavi Devi with Shiva  |  ca. 1630–35  |  India  |  Opaque watercolor and gold on paper  |  Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 2011 (2011.409)
    7641024
  • The Goddess Bhairavi Devi with Shiva  |  ca. 1630–35  |  India  |  Opaque watercolor and gold on paper  |  Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 2011 (2011.409)
    1280905
  • The Goddess Bhairavi Devi with Shiva  |  ca. 1630–35  |  India  |  Opaque watercolor and gold on paper  |  Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 2011 (2011.409)
    1280690
  • Great Indian Fruit Bat  |  ca. 1777–82  |  Circle of Bhawani Das (Indian)  |  India (Calcutta)  |  Pencil, ink, and watercolors on paper  |  Purchase, Anonymous Gift, Cynthia Hazen Polsky Gift, Virginia G. LeCount Bequest, in memory of The LeCount Family, 2007 Benefit Fund, Louis V. Bell, Harris Brisbane Dick, Fletcher, and Rogers Funds and Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, and Gift of Dr. Mortimer D. Sackler, Theresa Sackler and Family, 2008 (2008.312)
    1280928
  • Ewer with Wild Man Finial  |  ca. 1500  |  German; Made in Nuremberg  |  Silver, silver-gilt, painted and enameled decoration  |  The Cloisters Collection, 1953 (53.20.2)
    6031024
  • Ewer with Wild Man Finial  |  ca. 1500  |  German; Made in Nuremberg  |  Silver, silver-gilt, painted and enameled decoration  |  The Cloisters Collection, 1953 (53.20.2)
    8351024
  • Vanitas Still Life  |  1603  |  Jacques de Gheyn the Elder (Dutch)  |  Oil on wood  |  Charles B. Curtis, Marquand, Victor Wilbour Memorial, and The Alfred N. Punnett Endowment Funds, 1974 (1974.1)
    6621024
  • Tahmuras Defeats the Divs: From the Shahnama (Book of Kings) of Shah Tahmasp  |  ca. 1522–24  |  Attributed to Sultan Muhammad (Iranian)  |  Iran, Tabriz  |  Colors, ink, silver, and gold on paper  |  Gift of Arthur A. Houghton Jr., 1970 (1970.301.3)
    6611024
  • Tahmuras Defeats the Divs: From the Shahnama (Book of Kings) of Shah Tahmasp  |  ca. 1522–24  |  Attributed to Sultan Muhammad (Iranian)  |  Iran, Tabriz  |  Colors, ink, silver, and gold on paper  |  Gift of Arthur A. Houghton Jr., 1970 (1970.301.3)
    1061705
  • Tahmuras Defeats the Divs: From the Shahnama (Book of Kings) of Shah Tahmasp  |  ca. 1522–24  |  Attributed to Sultan Muhammad (Iranian)  |  Iran, Tabriz  |  Colors, ink, silver, and gold on paper  |  Gift of Arthur A. Houghton Jr., 1970 (1970.301.3)
    848592
  • Giant  |  by 1818  |  Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (Spanish)  |  Spanish  |  Burnished aquatint, 1st state  |  Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1935 (35.42)
    7561024
  • Giant  |  by 1818  |  Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (Spanish)  |  Spanish  |  Burnished aquatint, 1st state  |  Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1935 (35.42)
    12081024
  • Navina Haidar
    1280839
  • My name is Navina Haidar and I'm a curator in the Islamic department. I'm going to be exploring the question of "dark energy." It becomes apparent

  • that certain works of art are all the more compelling, and all the more riveting, because they

  • radiate something that we can call "dark energy," that's not negative, but

  • really represents a kind of power. Either the subject matter being extraordinary and sometimes disturbing;

  • a mood that's captured; or a kind of

  • restlessness in the minds of these artists that is often expressed in their work.

  • El Greco's skies above Toledo: that white edge around the clouds brings

  • this electric light filled with some kind of supernatural energy which is bursting forth from his canvases.

  • The sense of mystery in this painting is quite strong. The contrast between darkness and light, the isolation of the little figure. When I learned it was in fact a border, a somewhat contested border between Israel and Lebanon here, it made it all the more interesting and meaningful as an image, but even without that knowledge it's still a very, very powerful image.

  • The Tibetan image of the god of death, Yama, is really the incorporation of all the processes of the universe. Creation, preservation, and destruction.

  • When you see a fierce image like this, you're not meant to be terrified. Recognizing

  • them in some sense is a way of accepting them, and worshiping them, and realizing that they will come, just as the other forces will.

  • This Chamunda sculpture is clearly terrifying, but to me what's so darkly energetic about it

  • is that little scorpion image, to our very small human point of view, unnerves you more than the whole deity itself. This most fantastic

  • painting portrays the goddess Bhaivari, which is the fierce manifestation of Shiva.

  • What's so powerful about it is the fact that something that's utterly unreal has been articulated or expressed in a way that is so realistic. Her

  • lips which spew blood are drawn back revealing teeth. Her eyes bulge and of course they're not real eyes and neither are the spear-tipped horns that emerge from her head.

  • If you look at the way that corpse's toes are tensed, it's as though the life has just gone out of him.

  • There's an obvious psychological association between certain types of images and dark energy even if they're not dark images so to speak. This Great Indian Fruit Bat probably led a very innocent life eating mangoes and lychees, and yet because we insist on associating bats with darkness, we can't help thinking, "Well, there's a dark scary bat."

  • I love the thought of this posh European world, just about to enter the Renaissance, where there's going to be beautiful things happening on every level of society. But this little

  • dark man makes you suddenly feel that wildness and darkness and savagery is right 'round the corner, and no matter how beautifully gilded your vessel below is, that reminder of another world, far more elemental, is so brilliantly kind of conveyed.

  • The still life with the skull, which contrasts of course with all those symbols of wealth and life around it. And the fact that the front teeth are actually missing gives it a very sinister sort of grin. You can't quite make up your mind sometimes whether you're meant to laugh or be scared.

  • These demonic figures, they're filled with not only dark energy, but dark humor. There's something

  • slightly comical about the way the limbs are arranged and the kind of backwards stance of the figure.

  • And yet, if you were to look closely, they're actually pretty terrifying figures. Dark energy

  • is that razor's edge between the inner world and the outer world, the observed world and the imagined world.

  • It's on all these borderlines, and that's why it's energy. It's sort of without form, but something that is very much in all of us

  • if we stop for a moment to feel it.

  • 18.64.43
    The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters: Plate 43 of The Caprices (Los Caprichos), 1799, Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (Spanish), Etching, aquatint, drypoint, and burin Gift of M. Knoedler & Co., 1918 (18.64)
  • 1979.438
    Tomb guardian (zhenmushou), Northern Wei to Northern Qi dynasties, mid- to late 6th century, China, Earthenware with pigment Purchase, Ann Eden Woodward Foundation Gift, 1979 (1979.438)
  • 2008.30_av1
    Mangaaka Power Figure (Nkisi N'Kondi), second half of 19th century, Democratic Republic of Congo or Angola, Chiloango River Region; Kongo, Wood, metal, resin, enamel Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace, Drs. Daniel and Marian Malcolm, Laura G. and James J. Ross, Jeffrey B. Soref, The Robert T. Wall Family, Dr. and Mrs. Sidney G. Clyman, and Steven Kossak Gifts, 2008 (2008.30)
  • 56.48
    The Vision of Saint John, 1608–14, El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) (Greek), Oil on canvas (top truncated) Rogers Fund, 1956 (56.48)
  • 29.100.6
    View of Toledo, ca. 1597, El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) (Greek), Oil on canvas H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.6)
  • 1999.240
    Border #8, 1997–98, Michal Rovner (Israeli), Paint on canvas Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, 1999 (1999.240) © Michal Rovner
  • 69.71
    Yama, mid-17th–early 18th century, Tibet, Distemper on cloth Purchase, Florance Waterbury Bequest, 1969 (69.71)
  • 1989.121
    Chamunda, the Horrific Destroyer of Evil, 10th–11th century, India, Madhya Pradesh, Sandstone Purchase, Anonymous Gift and Rogers Fund, 1989 (1989.121)
  • 2011.409
    The Goddess Bhairavi Devi with Shiva, ca. 1630–35, India, Opaque watercolor and gold on paper Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 2011 (2011.409)
  • 2008.312
    Great Indian Fruit Bat, ca. 1777–82, Circle of Bhawani Das (Indian), India (Calcutta), Pencil, ink, and watercolors on paper Purchase, Anonymous Gift, Cynthia Hazen Polsky Gift, Virginia G. LeCount Bequest, in memory of The LeCount Family, 2007 Benefit Fund, Louis V. Bell, Harris Brisbane Dick, Fletcher, and Rogers Funds and Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, and Gift of Dr. Mortimer D. Sackler, Theresa Sackler and Family, 2008 (2008.312)
  • 53.20.2
    Ewer with Wild Man Finial, ca. 1500, German; Made in Nuremberg, Silver, silver-gilt, painted and enameled decoration The Cloisters Collection, 1953 (53.20.2)
  • 1974.1
    Vanitas Still Life, 1603, Jacques de Gheyn the Elder (Dutch), Oil on wood Charles B. Curtis, Marquand, Victor Wilbour Memorial, and The Alfred N. Punnett Endowment Funds, 1974 (1974.1)
  • 1970.301.3_av5
    Tahmuras Defeats the Divs: From the Shahnama (Book of Kings) of Shah Tahmasp, ca. 1522–24, Attributed to Sultan Muhammad (Iranian), Iran, Tabriz, Colors, ink, silver, and gold on paper Gift of Arthur A. Houghton Jr., 1970 (1970.301.3)
  • 35.42
    Giant, by 1818, Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (Spanish), Spanish, Burnished aquatint, 1st state Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1935 (35.42)
  • The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters: Plate 43 of The Caprices (Los Caprichos), 1799, Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (Spanish), Etching, aquatint, drypoint, and burin Gift of M. Knoedler & Co., 1918 (18.64)
    Tomb guardian (zhenmushou), Northern Wei to Northern Qi dynasties, mid- to late 6th century, China, Earthenware with pigment Purchase, Ann Eden Woodward Foundation Gift, 1979 (1979.438)
    Mangaaka Power Figure (Nkisi N'Kondi), second half of 19th century, Democratic Republic of Congo or Angola, Chiloango River Region; Kongo, Wood, metal, resin, enamel Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace, Drs. Daniel and Marian Malcolm, Laura G. and James J. Ross, Jeffrey B. Soref, The Robert T. Wall Family, Dr. and Mrs. Sidney G. Clyman, and Steven Kossak Gifts, 2008 (2008.30)
    The Vision of Saint John, 1608–14, El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) (Greek), Oil on canvas (top truncated) Rogers Fund, 1956 (56.48)
    View of Toledo, ca. 1597, El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) (Greek), Oil on canvas H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.6)
    Border #8, 1997–98, Michal Rovner (Israeli), Paint on canvas Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, 1999 (1999.240) © Michal Rovner
    Yama, mid-17th–early 18th century, Tibet, Distemper on cloth Purchase, Florance Waterbury Bequest, 1969 (69.71)
    Chamunda, the Horrific Destroyer of Evil, 10th–11th century, India, Madhya Pradesh, Sandstone Purchase, Anonymous Gift and Rogers Fund, 1989 (1989.121)
    The Goddess Bhairavi Devi with Shiva, ca. 1630–35, India, Opaque watercolor and gold on paper Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 2011 (2011.409)
    Great Indian Fruit Bat, ca. 1777–82, Circle of Bhawani Das (Indian), India (Calcutta), Pencil, ink, and watercolors on paper Purchase, Anonymous Gift, Cynthia Hazen Polsky Gift, Virginia G. LeCount Bequest, in memory of The LeCount Family, 2007 Benefit Fund, Louis V. Bell, Harris Brisbane Dick, Fletcher, and Rogers Funds and Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, and Gift of Dr. Mortimer D. Sackler, Theresa Sackler and Family, 2008 (2008.312)
    Ewer with Wild Man Finial, ca. 1500, German; Made in Nuremberg, Silver, silver-gilt, painted and enameled decoration The Cloisters Collection, 1953 (53.20.2)
    Vanitas Still Life, 1603, Jacques de Gheyn the Elder (Dutch), Oil on wood Charles B. Curtis, Marquand, Victor Wilbour Memorial, and The Alfred N. Punnett Endowment Funds, 1974 (1974.1)
    Tahmuras Defeats the Divs: From the Shahnama (Book of Kings) of Shah Tahmasp, ca. 1522–24, Attributed to Sultan Muhammad (Iranian), Iran, Tabriz, Colors, ink, silver, and gold on paper Gift of Arthur A. Houghton Jr., 1970 (1970.301.3)
    Giant, by 1818, Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (Spanish), Spanish, Burnished aquatint, 1st state Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1935 (35.42)
    8000–2000 B.C.
    2000–1000 B.C.
    1000 B.C.–1 A.D.
    1–500 A.D.
    500–1000 A.D.
    1000–1400 A.D.
    1400–1600 A.D.
    1600–1800 A.D.
    1800–1900 A.D.
    1900–Present

    Works of art in order of appearance

    Last Updated: August 19, 2013. Not all works of art in the Museum's collection may be on view on a particular day. For the most accurate location information, please check this page on the day of your visit.

    The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters: Plate 43 of The Caprices (Los Caprichos)
    1799
    Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (Spanish)
    Etching, aquatint, drypoint, and burin
    Gift of M. Knoedler & Co., 1918 (18.64)
    Not on view
    Drawings and PrintsSecond Floor
    Tomb guardian (zhenmushou)
    Northern Wei to Northern Qi dynasties, mid- to late 6th century
    China
    Earthenware with pigment
    Purchase, Ann Eden Woodward Foundation Gift, 1979 (1979.438)
    Not on view
    Asian ArtSecond Floor
    Mangaaka Power Figure (Nkisi N'Kondi)
    second half of 19th century
    Democratic Republic of Congo or Angola, Chiloango River Region; Kongo
    Wood, metal, resin, enamel
    Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace, Drs. Daniel and Marian Malcolm, Laura G. and James J. Ross, Jeffrey B. Soref, The Robert T. Wall Family, Dr. and Mrs. Sidney G. Clyman, and Steven Kossak Gifts, 2008 (2008.30)
    On view: Gallery 350
    Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the AmericasFirst Floor
    The Vision of Saint John
    1608–14
    El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) (Greek)
    Oil on canvas (top truncated)
    Rogers Fund, 1956 (56.48)
    On view: Gallery 611
    European PaintingsSecond Floor
    View of Toledo
    ca. 1597
    El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) (Greek)
    Oil on canvas
    H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929 (29.100.6)
    On view: Gallery 611
    European PaintingsSecond Floor
    Border #8
    1997–98
    Michal Rovner (Israeli)
    Paint on canvas
    Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, 1999 (1999.240)
    © Michal Rovner
    Not on view
    PhotographsSecond Floor
    Yama
    mid-17th–early 18th century
    Tibet
    Distemper on cloth
    Purchase, Florance Waterbury Bequest, 1969 (69.71)
    On view: Gallery 253
    Asian ArtSecond Floor
    Chamunda, the Horrific Destroyer of Evil
    10th–11th century
    India, Madhya Pradesh
    Sandstone
    Purchase, Anonymous Gift and Rogers Fund, 1989 (1989.121)
    On view: Gallery 241
    Asian ArtSecond Floor
    The Goddess Bhairavi Devi with Shiva
    ca. 1630–35
    India
    Opaque watercolor and gold on paper
    Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 2011 (2011.409)
    Not on view
    Islamic ArtSecond Floor
    Great Indian Fruit Bat
    ca. 1777–82
    Circle of Bhawani Das (Indian)
    India (Calcutta)
    Pencil, ink, and watercolors on paper
    Purchase, Anonymous Gift, Cynthia Hazen Polsky Gift, Virginia G. LeCount Bequest, in memory of The LeCount Family, 2007 Benefit Fund, Louis V. Bell, Harris Brisbane Dick, Fletcher, and Rogers Funds and Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, and Gift of Dr. Mortimer D. Sackler, Theresa Sackler and Family, 2008 (2008.312)
    On view: Gallery 464
    Islamic ArtSecond Floor
    Ewer with Wild Man Finial
    ca. 1500
    German; Made in Nuremberg
    Silver, silver-gilt, painted and enameled decoration
    The Cloisters Collection, 1953 (53.20.2)
    On view at The Cloisers: Gallery 016
    Medieval Art and The CloistersFirst Floor
    Vanitas Still Life
    1603
    Jacques de Gheyn the Elder (Dutch)
    Oil on wood
    Charles B. Curtis, Marquand, Victor Wilbour Memorial, and The Alfred N. Punnett Endowment Funds, 1974 (1974.1)
    On view: Gallery 635
    European PaintingsSecond Floor
    Tahmuras Defeats the Divs: From the Shahnama (Book of Kings) of Shah Tahmasp
    ca. 1522–24
    Attributed to Sultan Muhammad (Iranian)
    Iran, Tabriz
    Colors, ink, silver, and gold on paper
    Gift of Arthur A. Houghton Jr., 1970 (1970.301.3)
    Not on view
    Islamic ArtSecond Floor
    Giant
    by 1818
    Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (Spanish)
    Spanish
    Burnished aquatint, 1st state
    Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1935 (35.42)
    Not on view
    Drawings and PrintsSecond Floor

    © 2011 The Metropolitan Museum of Art