Its all in the details: the Nepali Thangka paintings have vivid colours with red, orange, yellow, blue and green dominating, representing Buddhist symbols and images, capturing the cosmic world of gods and goddesses. They are displayed at an art show Illuminating The Divine, at DakshinaChitra.
The show has been curated by Stephen Eckerd, who has vast experience working at galleries at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. Thangka paintings flourished as murals in Buddhist monasteries many centuries ago, and were later rendered on cloth and handmade paper as well.
The idea behind this show is contextualising culture through art, says Stephen, adding: Thangka artist Rajan Sangachhen will be the artist in residence here till mid-February.
Stephens trademark style is displaying the photo and bio of the artist along with their works, and he has followed the same here as well. I want art connoisseurs and collectors to establish contact with the artists. I consciously promote such culture, he adds.
Most of the artists whose works are on display are from Lalitpur in the Kathmandu valley, known for its rich cultural heritage, especially in arts and crafts. In fact, Lalitpur is known as the city of artists, and the legacy dates back to the 4th Century, as is documented by Chinese Buddhist monks. But unfortunately, those art works have been destroyed. Its only from 11th Century that Thangka paintings survived, says Stephen. He further explains how in Nepal, temple festivals such as Samek Mahadan and Nature have always fascinated the Thangka artists. For them, religion, both Hinduism and Buddhism, has been the central theme, along with which they also weave in the flora and fauna of their landscape.
Interestingly, Thangka (Tibetan word for painting) art was influenced by Chinese Buddhist monks, who came to Nepal to visit sacred sites. This resulted in a unique style of painting by the Newari artists of the Kathmandu Valley. In Nepal, Thangka is known as Paubha, and the Newari artists specialised in traditional religious paintings used in worship. Paubha (Sanskrit word for painting) art therefore depicts deities, mandalas or monuments.
Yet another unique aspect of this art is that it is drawn on cotton fabric, using mineral colours. The fabric is coated with white clay and animal glue (saresh in Nepali) derived from the skin of cow, buffalo or rabbit. It is further rubbed with a stone to make the fabric smooth, and is then employed to paint images. Typically, Thangka or Paubha paintings were mounted on brocade fabric and some artists specialised in this work. The paintings can be rolled and displayed when needed, which is why they were also called scroll paintings. The earliest Nepali painting on cloth dates back to late 11th Century.
Stephen has mounted the collection, about 40 totally, at a height of two to 2.5 feet, and the reason he gives is an eye-opener. Children are our most valuable visitors and I hang the artefact low so that they can view it and appreciate it. This also helps visitors on wheelchairs. Magnifying glasses are also hung close to the artefacts for visitors to use, and if closely examined, reveal a wealth of fascinating details.
Illuminating the divine is on till February 10, 10 am to 5.30 pm, at Kadambari Gallery, DakshinaChitra, Muttukadu, ECR. Phone: 2747 2603. Rajan Sangachhen will also be offering workshop on January 25 and 26, 10.30 am to 5.30 pm, fee Rs 2500. For details, call: 9841777779.
The exhibition has on display the works of renowned and award-winning Nepali artists, apart from upcoming ones. It also has posters and film screenings.
Films being screened include: Tashi Samtenling Monastery: Bodhinath, Nepal. This film is on a day in the life of the oldest Buddhist monastery in Nepal.
Samek Mahadan: This documentary is about one of the most beautiful Buddhist festivals in Nepal.
Stephen Eckerd will be conducting classes in exhibition design which deals with how to do the layout, curate events around the exhibition so that more people walk in. He will also teach art management for the students interning at DakshinaChitra
Artist in residence
Rajan Sangachhen will be living and working at DakshinaChitra till the second week of February.
Art connoisseurs, artists and students can interact with him and even commission work.
An architect, the 32-year-old went to a fine arts school while he was working as a 3D modelling designer for almost 10 years.
He sells three to four paintings a year, as the detailed sketches are time-consuming.
His depiction of Buddha, with eyes half open, an expression that conveys layers of meaning, captivates.
His most popular Green Tara, with layers of imagery and breathtaking details and vibrant colours, definitely calls for a closer look with a magnifying glass.
His works are priced between 30,000 and 5,00,000.