The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive will present Mandala: The Architecture of Enlightenment, an exhibition of rare and exquisite works that opens on July 19 and runs through September 17, 2000. A mandala is an ancient Hindu and Buddhist graphic symbol of the universe - a cosmic diagram that functions as a powerful aid to meditation and concentration. This exhibition features more than forty mandalas and related objects, including sculptures and models of sacred spaces, from Tibet, Nepal, China, Japan, Bhutan, India, and Indonesia. It highlights the stunning artistry and diversity of this ancient art form, and explores the artistic genesis and religious role of the mandala in Buddhist belief.
Mandala: The Architecture of Enlightenment, co-organized by the Asia Society and Tibet House, is the first exhibition ever devoted to the multiple manifestations of the mandala throughout Asia. The mandala is likened by some to a “floor plan of the universe.” The type most familiar in the West is an intricately patterned painting on cloth or paper that often takes the general form of a circle within a square. The word “mandala” comes from the Sanskrit verbal root “mand” (meaning to mark off, decorate, set off) and the suffix “la” (meaning circle, essence, sacred center). Many of the works in this exhibition are very rare examples of Tibetan art, much of which has been destroyed following the Chinese invasion of Tibet in the 1950s. Dr. Robert A.F. Thurman, co-curator of the exhibition, estimates that up to 90 percent of Tibetan art has been lost. Of the remainder, Thurman estimates that 2 to 3 percent is in Western collections, another 2 to 3 percent is still in Tibet, and 5 percent is circulating in the world's art markets. Exhibitions such as this help raise awareness of Tibetan culture and the richness and enormous significance of the artifacts that still survive.
According to Vishakha N. Desai, Vice President for Cultural Programs and Director of the Asia Society Galleries, the symbolic power of the mandala can be traced back to millennia-old roots in Indian temple architecture: “In the context of Buddhism, a mandala functions as an aid to meditation and concentration, helping believers visualize the universe and their place in it, often in relation to a specific deity found in the center of the image.”
The mandalas on display at the UC Berkeley Art Museum track the evolution of the symbol throughout Asia under the influence of various religious and artistic traditions. Some of these works are exceptionally rare. Some are exquisitely complex, others quite simple. A portable soapstone model of a stone temple found in tenth-century India is one kind of mandala; another is the Tibetan assemblage of miniature bronze deities that resembles a sacred chess set. An Edo period Japanese star mandala shows Amitabha, the Buddha of Infinite Light, seated on a lotus with flaming jewels, painted in gold and colors on wood. The round shape may derive from circular metal plaques that decorated Shinto shrines. More contemporary mandalas made from thread offer proof of the continuing vitality of the mandala and its role in Buddhist devotions.
The Museum will present a series of programs in conjunction with the exhibition Mandala: The Architecture of Enlightenment. On Sunday, July 23, at 3 pm, the acclaimed Tibetan ensemble Chaksampa will give a musical performance in Gallery B. In addition to vocal music, the musicians - all graduates of the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts in Dharamsala, India - will play traditional Tibetan instruments: the dranyen (Tibetan lute), lingbu (bamboo flute), and piwang (violin).
On Sunday, September 10, at 3 pm, Robert A.F. Thurman, co-curator of Mandala: The Architecture of Enlightenment, will give a lecture illustrating aspects of the exhibition and issues arising from it, in 155 Dwinelle Hall, UC Berkeley campus. Admission: $7 general admission, $5 UCB faculty/staff and non-UCB students, $3 BAM/PFA members and UCB students. Advance tickets strongly recommended; call (510) 643-2219.
Guided tours of the exhibition will be offered by UC Berkeley Art History graduate student Boreth Ly on Thursday, July 20, September 7 and September 14 at 12:15 pm, and all Sundays for the exhibition's duration at 2 pm. There will be a sign-language interpreted tour of the exhibition on Saturday, August 19, at 1:30 pm.
An exhibition catalog is available at the Museum Store: Mandala The Architecture of Enlightenment, by Denise Patry Leidy and Robert A.F. Thurman; $25 paperback. To order, call (510) 642-1475, or email email@example.com.
Also on view
Opening August 9, Paper Road Tibet: The Art of the Book, an exhibition devoted to printing and papermaking in Tibet, will be on view in the museum's Asian Galleries. Paper Road Tibet examines book-makers' art, and features printing blocks, printed prayer flags, door-protection images, sutra pages, wooden book covers, and metal buckles for book straps, as well as pens, cases, and ink pots from Tibet. These are supplemented by rare printed Tibetan images and books lent by UC Berkeley's East Asian Library. On Sunday, 15 October, at 3 pm, Sheila Keppel and Carol Brighton will offer a walkthrough of this exhibition, followed by a papermaking demonstration.