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Indepth Arts News:

"The Art of Tibetan Sand Painting"
1999-07-16 until 1999-07-25
Museum of Fine Arts Houston
Houston, TX, USA United States of America

Tibetan sand painting is one of the world's most exquisite artistic traditions. On Friday, July 16, in Masterson Junior Gallery, Tibetan Buddhist monks from Gaden Shartse Monastery in southern India will begin creating a sand painting that depicts the mandala of Yamantaka, the protector deity of their monastery. A visual expression of Tibetan Buddhism, mandalas diagram such concepts as the relationships between deities or the origins of the universe. Mandalas are used in meditation to visualize a succession of perfected realms or beings.

Mandalas are most commonly created with paint or colored sand in two or three dimensions. To make the mandala, the mandala master first delineates the outline by holding string that is dipped in chalk and snapping it onto a flat surface. Then, sand is applied very precisely by tapping a metal cone that is filled with the colored sand. This elaborate ceremony requires extensive ritual preparation. The meticulous process of applying grains of colored sands requires between 75 and 125 hours to complete.

Works of Tibetan art will surround visitors as they observe the mandala being constructed in the Masterson Junior Gallery. Loaned by Houston collector John H. Coon, the artworks will include beautiful tangkas (rich paintings on cotton, linen, or silk), Tibetan textiles, and ritual objects used in Buddhist ceremonies. As in all major religions, the art of the Tibetans plays a major role in bringing religious traditions to life. Coon's collection, as well as the gilded Bodhisattvas on display in the museum's permanent Asian collection, will provide visitors with a further understanding of Tibet's art.

The monks will dismantle the mandala on Sunday, July 25, 1999, at 3 p.m. in keeping with the Buddhist teaching of the impermanence of all things. The sand will be placed in an urn and the monks will carry the urn to Buffalo Bayou where, after rituals and prayers, it will be poured slowly into the water. A small amount of sand will be preserved for distribution among the initiates. However, the image of the mandala remains in the minds of the monks who use this image to help transform their mind, body, and emotions, enabling them ultimately to achieve enlightenment. Visitors are invited to observe this ceremony.

In February 1996, crowds gathered to watch Buddhist monks from the Seraje Monastery of Tibet perform their art of sand painting at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. They created the Mandala of Hayagriva, a symbolic work of art that represented the protector deity of the original monastery, which has now been relocated in southern India.

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