Frequent museum visitors will undoubtedly recognize Visitor Information Center (VIC) associate Tyler Wyatt. If you walked through our doors in 2017, there’s a good chance Wyatt greeted you with a smile at the front desk.

“I’m the museum’s ambassador!” he says when asked to describe his job. “I’m like the welcome wagon.” The mild-mannered Indiana native joined the museum as an intern in the Contemporary Art department in October 2016, taking on a full-time position at the VIC a few months later.

Wyatt, who earned a BFA in drawing from Ball State University in Muncie before moving to Honolulu in 2015, says his favorite thing about working at HoMA is “being surrounded by fantastic art.”

When asked to select a favorite artwork from the collection, Wyatt heads to the Pan Asian Buddhism gallery, where he makes a beeline for a pair of carved wooden figures. The Ni-ō, or Japanese temple guardians, are modest in stature (only about two feet tall), but their resolute stances and fearsome expressions command attention.

“These guys,” Wyatt says, as if greeting old friends, “they just have such a magnificent presence, even though they’re so small in comparison with some of the other work in the gallery, they stand out so brilliantly.” The intimidating duo also evoke memories of his recent trip to Japan, where he encountered several facsimiles.

“My favorite ones were in Tōdai-ji Temple in Nara. They were these huge goliaths of statues, all carved from wood, and they had the same expressions—the closed mouth and the open mouth. Apparently the guy with the open mouth, he is an Agyō. ‘A’ is the first letter of the Japanese language and it’s supposed to represent the beginning—also whenever you’re born you come into the world screaming ‘AAAHHHH!’ The other one is called the Ungyō. The last letter of the Japanese language is ‘N’—and also whenever you die the last thing that you say is you hum ‘unnn’ and then you’re dead. So they are like the beginning and the end, alpha and omega.”

Ni-ō (Pair of Temple Guardians)
Japan, Kamakura period, 13th -early 14the century
Wood, pigments

Gift of Robert Allerton, 1952
(1690.1, 1690.2)