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Musical instruments become art

The Music for the Divine exhibition at the NIU Art Museum looks at Burmese musical instruments as works of art.
The Music for the Divine exhibition at the NIU Art Museum looks at Burmese musical instruments as works of art.

DeKALB – Part of the Northern Illinois University Art Museum’s Southeast Asian Exhibition Suite, “Music for the Divine” showcases Burmese traditions and musical instruments, including those used in Buddhist rituals, traditional royal court ceremonies and contemporary multiethnic expressions.

This exhibition, featuring the Burma Art Collection, will run in the South Galleries through Nov. 17.

“Music for the Divine,” curated by Catherine Raymond, director of the Center for Burma Studies and professor of art history at NIU, showcases a unique collection of Burmese musical instruments from the Burma Art Collection at NIU. Each of the instruments on display – harp, bronze drum, flute, hsain waing, patala, conch, bells, chimes, etc. – is a work of art. Created by artisans from various Burmese ethnic groups, their forms and sounds are expressions not only of aesthetics and technical skills, but also of religious ideals, community identities and political relations.

For example, the harp historically had specific Buddhist and courtly functions, as did the patala, or xylophone. The ozi, a long cylindrical drum, is used by the Shan to accompany a popular dance.

“Music for the Divine” is thematically linked with programming spanning several colleges and departments at NIU, including the school of art, the school of music, the anthropology department, the history department and the Center for Southeast Asia Studies. “Music for the Divine” is also a component of the Celebrating Creativity: Asian/Asian-American Identities Project offered in conjunction with the Cambodia Studies Conference, Sept. 13 through 16, and the International Burma Studies Conference, Oct. 5 through 7, at Northern Illinois University. Visit for related programming.

The museum is on the first floor, west end of Altgeld Hall. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday.

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