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Lions Roar : November 2006
SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2006 65 Rigdol, who has two paintings, one a dramatic takeoff of Picasso’s Guernica, in which the man- gled Cubist horse and its fierce-faced rider (rep- resenting Mao) wreak brilliantly colored havoc on the Tibetan nation. By far the biggest category, however, consists of artists it’s surprising to find here. One is Salus- tiano Garcia, a Seville-based painter who exhibits in the international circuits and who says he’s in- clined toward the spiritual but knows little about Buddhism. To prepare, he sought out Tibetan teachers and did a lot of reading, he said to me at the Fowler on opening day. He pointed to ten dif- ferent reds—all hand-ground and applied with a precision evocative of the Renaissance—that envelop the head of a girl. Her piercing lapis la- zuli eyes seem to miss nothing and contain ev- erything. Behind her are red Sanskrit letters that translate as “reincarnation.” Salustiano explained what I could not have guessed: that the painting is a “portrait” of His Holiness in his next incarna- tion—presumably a challenging gender change, even for a Tibetan master. “She is a girl moving through her future,” Salus- tiano said. Artists tend to hide their intentions in their work, so determining exactly where the Bud- dhism is in The Missing Peace can be challenging. The “opacity factor” could lead you to believe that nobody in the exhibition has any Buddhist sym- pathies. Yet Salustiano said that he spent a year on his portrait, trying and discarding three versions before he got the one he wanted, because he is so drawn to what the Dalai Lama represents. “This moment is so material,” he said. “The Dalai Lama offers a profoundly different way of thinking.” Katarina Wong’s installation in The Missing Peace is a classic case of the opacity factor. Wong, who studied Buddhism at Harvard Divinity School, marveled at the way Buddhism changed as it moved out of India to other countries. That thought led her to recall friends who had moved and the ways they were still interconnected with her in codependent origination. “They remind me that we do hold each other’s lives as vessels and we share them,” she said. So she began col- lecting fingerprints, asking people to let her take impressions of the last joint of the index finger. Six years of impressions, cast in tinted beeswax, are pinned to a wall of the museum in spirals re- sembling the arms of galaxies. The piece, she said, is “literally dependent” on the people who let her take their prints. She wondered, “How do you talk about a not-language-based experi- ence in art? It’s a question of translation.” To achieve that translation, artists at ease in the interna- tional art world typically rely on a grammar of form drawn from a century of modernist and postmodernist conversa- tions. Deconstructing the work in The Missing Peace involves knowing at least some of that grammar, but the “not-lan- guage-based” experiences that created the originating inten- tion are embedded in the work nonetheless, and they can be “unpacked” just as any expe- rience can be. The unpacking process is its own reward. The cliché that the teacher appears when the student is ready has a corollary: when the student meets the teacher, the baggage that has always been there becomes very interesting to look at. The baggage, for artists, consists of experiences inseparable from qualities of mind that are otherwise indescribable. My sense is that Buddhism intersects seamlessly with the artist’s project in two ways. First, the baggage is not only interesting, it is the expression of our humanity, and artists turn to it in the same way practitioners do—to see themselves in the world and to create from that vision. Second, the work itself, when it appears, is newborn and becomes a conundrum containing both the artist’s humanity and the viewer’s. The process of unpacking it is not unlike what happens in practice, when you see (and start dismantling) the construct you have created. The mind of art-making and the mind of liv- ing are not two minds. I think that many artists understand this subliminally, if not explicitly, and are deeply drawn to what Buddhism offers. To be at play in the fields of mind is a fine thing—a source of joy—and offers a glimpse of vast and fascinating complexity. ♦