Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Mandalas:Sacred Circle of Buddhism

Amitayus Mandala. Tibet;ca.14th century, Courtesy Rubin Museum of Art
(This serves an example of a mandala but was not part of the exhibition I visited.)

Last week Tom and I traveled down to Atlanta to Emory University to view an exhibition at the Michael C. Carlos Museum. The show, titled Mandalas: Sacred Circle of Buddhism, is a traveling show from the collection of the Rubin Museum of Art in NYC and it is a jewel.

My husband, Tom Dimond, has worked with circles and circle compositions for many years and while his work has recently taken a different form, he has a deep love and appreciation for the formal aspects of the "Mandala" organization.

The work in the exhibition was beautifully presented and each room had a large magnifying glass so guests could have a close look at this extremely detailed work. The oldest piece we noted in the collection was from the 13th century and was in unbelievably good condition. Naturally we were not able to photography the art.

I am not a Buddhist so I do not have real knowledge of the meanings of the work. Fortunately, each work was supported with a brief explanation of the imagery. I don't think I have ever appreciated this information more and here it allowed me to have a completely different understanding of what I was seeing. My best example of this would be the many skulls, flayed bodies, seas of blood and wrathful deities featured in many of the pieces. My interpretation of their meaning would never have arrived at the intended one which is rather positive as they represented growth,"things left behind", as you move forward in your spiritual life.

One of the highlights was an unbelievable sand painting which was created in the gallery space by a group of the Buddhist monks. I have seen photographs of these before but to see one in person is a totally different thing. The colors of the sand vibrate and the complexity of the Mandala is just wonderful. The colors blend and shade and there are subtle textures in some areas. At the end of the show the monks return, sweep the painting into a container and pour it into a stream so the blessings of the work can go out into the world. I love what this ritual represents.

Living Mandala

In addition to the sand painting they also created a living Mandala and I was able to photograph that to share. The mandala is composed of succulents, herbs, a Japanese maple and colored glass. It is a nice size measuring perhaps 20 feet across.

I always take notes when viewing and exhibition. Here are some of the things I jotted down.

  • Circles/circles inside squares, triangles, Symmetry balanced by variety
  • North, South, East, West
  • Mediation on who you want to become
  • Ground Mineral Pigment on Cotton
  • 13th Century
  • Dark Red, deep green, charcoal, golds, taupe
  • Conventions, structures, symbolism, cosmology
  • nothing is casual or only for artistic reasons
  • blocks with boarders like sashing
  • nine patches and other "patch" types
  • Shambhala
  • Wind Tracks
  • Beauty & delicacy
  • single hair brush
  • 6 days to make sand painting

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  1. Thanks for posting this Terry. It was a great experience and the most Mandala paintings I have ever seen in one place. I will be sure to go to the Rubin Museum the next time I am in New York. It was a real treat to share my enthusiasm for this ancient art form with you in person. I was very intrigued by the minute detail of each painting and the mysterious iconography, particularly in the room of monsters and sacred protectors. I recall doing some paintings back in graduate school that suggested mandalas. I got them out recently. Perhaps we can post them sometime.

    1. I would enjoy posting some of that work Tom. I would not have gone to see this show without your interest. So happy we went.

  2. And right up the road at Oglethorpe University's museum through 5/6/12 is an exhibit called The Sacred Round, an exhibit of 40 mandalas created by some of Carl Jung's patients. The exhibit is on loan from the C. G. Jung Institute in Switzerland, first time in the US. Glad to hear about the Carlos Museum exhibit, seein' as how I love mandalas. (Creating them is what keeps me in my seat during meetings.)

  3. Thank you wholly jeanne for the comment and the info about the show at Oglethorpe U. I would love to see this collection and how a diverse group of people have worked within this concept.

    Please come again!