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China: By Journalists Eye XV: Thangka Art

Published: 25.8.2012
Qinghai Province fascinates me at every step, or rather at every kilometre. A mixture of Buddhism and Muslim world humbly exist together is incredibly interesting phenomenon, especially for journalists from far, accelerated, often impersonal and intolerant Europe. This time we are heading into the valley that lies in Rebkong area, the centre of Tibetan art in the province.

While the Chinese Cultural Revolution meant for Tibetan culture almost finish, today, certainly under pressure from the West, and in trying to declare the helpfulness "problematic" Tibet, Beijing trying this culture, its preservation and development support. We knew about it spread in Europe, we have to visit the school of traditional Tibetan painting - thangka.

A smaller low building hidden garden welcomes us, nice glass atrium in the doorway monk middle age, which is decorated with an only one think - gold glasses. We are going thru necessary formality and enter straight into the workshop that dazzles me by explosion of colours on the pictures. There's a calm working atmosphere. Students and their teachers - monks - sit either on the ground or on different levels of chairs, each with a fine brush in hand, someone in the mouth, and paint.

In another part of the room sit two boys who could not be more than seven or eight years. Each has a cup in one hand, the in second one kind of little hammer and they mix colours. Typical functions of discipleship, what we've not known long time. The range of colours from boys on earth offer dozens of cups is incredibly varied. I'm starting to ask questions and guide helpfully translates.

I´ll find out we are in college, where young monks and school children learn from the masters of ancient Tibetan art - painting of thangka style, that is part of Tibetan culture more than thousand years. And what is very interesting - almost unchanged techniques. The colours are still mixed by hand, essentially made of natural materials. The basis remains cotton canvas or silk, and the rules for their own artwork based on the centuries-old Tibetan books.

I observe a thangka, which is dominated by the image of the goddess with many pairs of hands. Front of the screen sits on a stool towering young girl – she paints amotifs on the top of the image, which has seen up close predrawn coordinate system and between them different marks. What do they mean? She explains that her picture was predrown by master and its task is to comply with the rules of the scene, which indicate to us just indecipherable characters. But then it's all on her resourcefulness and each final piece is therefore unique.

I talk to young painter and I find out that she works with her picture for three months and still it will take a few weeks. Her thangka is not for religious duties, so be ready relatively soon. If it were otherwise, the whole process will stretch up to twice, because the paint on the canvas inscribed prayers and mantras.

Student seems to be happy and gratefully, and she says that she got a great opportunity to learn a skill that has a great future. Master is hovering nearby and is involved: "Thangka we need in our Buddhist monasteries - meditate with them, protect us, they are learning the material, but today it's an interesting business article. In the west you for thangkas people pay good money.

I do not know that they can find thangkas also on our art market, for their price I better don’t ask, and so walk from painter to painter (sometimes working on the painting in two and three) and proceed to the "treasure".

I am in a side room, which is from the ground to the ceiling decorated with paintings on canvas. Live to grin at me, frowns or smiles different gods, little gods, goddesses, yogis, Buddha dominates of many thangkas that depict scenes from his life. There are also beautiful mandala and original colour combinations are amazing aesthetic experience.

I can imagine that one of Tibetan paintings adorned my wall and I feel incredible positive power, charge and energy that radiates from the paintings. The same mood is for us in this very exotic feel among school students and monks. Unfortunately, it's time to leave, so I'll do a few last shots choir waved schoolgirls, bend out the window and leave to mentally rise to a Buddhist monastery.

Text/photo: Andrea Fantová

 



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