Sunday Object Talk: Balakrishna (Child Krishna) Dancing”

William Passannante

For the fifth time this semester, patrons had the pleasure of attending the Allen Memorial Art Museum’s Sunday Object Talk, benefiting from students’ work in the Practicum in Museum Education’s Winter Term project.

The talks beg the question: What exactly is an “object?” According to College sophomore Brenna Larson, leader of Sunday’s talk on the AMAM’s “Balakrishna (Child Krishna) Dancing,” the term’s broad scope precisely facilitates its usefulness. As the more artistically inclined can attest, the discourse vis-à-vis what constitutes art has likely persisted as long as art itself has existed. Within this discourse, “object,” in its generality, provides the ideal terminology with which to discuss art of any medium.

The object du jour was a small, South Indian bronze sculpture depicting Krishna, the eighth avatar of the god Vishnu. The story of Krishna, Larson says, bears resemblance to that of Hercules following his development from a playful, even naughty, child to a hero and deity. But this deity is not without decidedly human characteristics; the child Krishna liked eating butter — apparently against the wishes of his foster mother. The “Balakrishna” depicts the mischievous Krishna “delighting in the theft of a naughty snack,” to use Larson’s words.

The design for the AMAM’s “Balakrishna” is far from unique; it represents an established incarnation of the remarkably consistent iconography of the Balakrishna. The young Krishna is shown dancing with butter in his right hand and with his left hand out for balance.

The small scale of the Allen’s holding is notable: It had to be portable, as it was likely carried in rituals, processions and parades and the like. Larson stated that such sculptures, like the cerermonies in which they were carried, were typically colorful. However, the “Balakrishna” features a brownish-grey, worn-looking palette. If color ever graced this particular iteration of Krishna’s form, it has long since worn away. Larson speculated that she could perhaps see the remnants of pigment in a few specific areas of the sculpture, but declined to give a decisive word on the matter. It does not require an especially active imagination, however, to sense Krishna’s rascally aura — even in monochrome.