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Archive for the ‘tibetan art’ Category

The film has been released in Wisconsin!

Creating Buddhas: The Making and Meaning of Fabric Thangkas premiered at the Deer Park Buddhist Center in Oregon, Wisconsin on Saturday, September 27.

Visit www.creatingbuddhas.com for a continually updated calendar of screenings.

The Daily Page wrote:

CREATING BUDDHAS: The Making and Meaning of Fabric Thangkas

a film by Isadora Gabrielle Leidenfrost

Creating Buddhas is the unique not-for-profit documentary film about Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo, a western woman who painstakingly mastered the craft of fabric thangkas, a silk embroidered and appliquEd art form in Tibetan Buddhism. Leslie’s transformation into a Tibetan fabric thangka master began with a voyage to Dharamsala, where she began learning the ancient tradition from two renowned fabric thangka makers. Through her devotion to the culture, she became one of the few western women to have ever mastered this revered art form.


Upcoming Wisconsin Screenings:

Creating Buddhas Premiere Deer Park Buddhist Center, 4548 Schneider Dr. Oregon, WI Sat. Sept. 27th, 8pm

Shambhala Center of Madison, 408 S Baldwin St Madison, WI
Thursday Oct. 2nd, 7:30pm

Mimosa, 260 W Gilman St, Madison, WI Friday Oct 10th, 8pm

Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection, UW-Madison, location TBA, Sun. Oct 19th, 4pm

Proceeds from the sale of Creating Buddhas will be donated to the Deer Park Buddhist Center’s temple fund in Oregon, WI. Deer Park’s new temple was blessed on July 19th, 2008 by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.

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The Norbulingka Institute has a beautiful new website!

I first met Tibetan appliqué work at the Norbulingka Institute in 1992 while engaged in volunteer work with the Tibetan Planning Council in Dharamsala, India. I was part of an economic development team touring some of the refugee community’s handicraft centers, together with the founder of a company marketing Tibetan products in the US for both commercial and cultural preservation purposes. I still remember the awe I experienced when I came in contact with the vivid colors and rich textures of these forms. For me, it was like Amish quilts met spiritual awakening in an explosion of joy and beauty! I loved the intensity of the colors, the energy of the forms, the profundity of the tradition. And I determined that day to learn to make these artworks myself.

It took a while to find a teacher, and I never did study at Norbulingka. My teachers were Tenzin Gyaltsen and T.G. Dorjee Wangdu. But I have always retained great respect for the Norbulingka Institute as the seed inspiration for my career. And I’m so pleased to see their new website, which beautifully displays their work with grace and integrity. I wish them the best in their efforts to preserve and enrich Tibetan artistic traditions.

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In the last few years, Tibetan contemporary art has begun to receive significant attention. A small group of artists, some living in Tibet, others in exile, are finding opportunities to exhibit their work and are being recognized as an important force in the evolution and vitality of Tibetan culture. I have not yet had the good fortune of attending any of these contemporary Tibetan art exhibitions, but I am eager to do so.

The other day, a google alert for Tibetan art brought my attention to a fine article by Carole McGranahan and Losang Gyatso, speaking about the artists’ and scholars’ symposium Waves on the Turquoise Lake: Contemporary Expressions of Tibetan Art which took place in September, 2006.

I’m not Tibetan. I create traditional Tibetan art and am also expanding the boundaries of my work — both by applying traditional techniques to new imagery and by complementing my traditional images with new techniques. Up to now, even my “new” imagery is drawn from Tibetan and related cultures. So even though I’m not Tibetan, the questions of Tibetan contemporary art are very close to my heart.

Cultural preservation seems a worthwhile endeavor, especially when a particular culture is threatened and repressed and undergoing rapid, largely externally-driven change as is the case for the Tibetans. I am honored to play a part in preserving a precious Tibetan tradition — even if it’s not very traditional for a “foreigner” to be doing so. But I’m also aware that culture cannot be petrified and continue to live. The emphasis on preservation must be tempered by an openness to growth, change, evolution, life…

The article on Waves on the Turquoise Lake quotes Tsering Shakya asking “What is the Tibetanness of this?” as roundtable participants explored issues of contemporary Tibetan art in light of the pressures to conform which are found in the Tibetan exile community. “What is Tibetan about this art?” So far, most of the contemporary work I have seen by Tibetan artists is heavily influenced by traditional forms and symbols of Tibetan art and culture. One day in the future, perhaps, that will no longer be the case. At that point, will it matter whether one is a Tibetan contemporary artist or simply a contemporary artist? Or is there another way to express the Tibetan experience and struggle for identity, maybe in ways that are more universally human? For now, I am deeply moved by the use of these ancient symbols in the expression of current human, and particularly Tibetan, experience.

In some way I feel that all my own work is contemporary, even the traditional pieces, because it’s being produced now, in today’s world, where the images of tradition do not occupy the same space they once did. At the same time, I resonate with the tradition that’s contained even in my “contemporary” works, even if it’s not the tradition I was born into.

For more on contemporary Tibetan art, see also the Mechak Center for Contemporary Art.

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Today I stitched some pieces of what will become the background for my Chenrezig. I’m very excited about this piece and don’t know whether to call it a thangka, a quilt, or something else. The figure is purely traditional. I used the traditional piecing and applique techniques I was trained in by Tibetan masters in Dharamsala. I created the drawing myself while studying how to draw within sacred proportions with Alex Kocharov in Sarnath many years ago. I have a special love of and connection with Chenrezig as a meditation deity, the representation of fully enlightened compassion and of our own potential.

And this Chenrezig will become part of a cloth wall hanging more similar to a contemporary art quilt than a traditional thangka. It’s an adventure, an experiment, which thrills me with a sense of risk and daring but also feels lovingly respectful of this Chenrezig figure I’ve created.

So today I was quilting. And since I’m still so new to quilting, the work was accompanied by a bit of fear of screwing up and curiosity about what technique might work best. While building some skill over the past months and waiting for some fabric to arrive, I’ve brainstormed design ideas which have changed multiple times. Now I think I know what I want the piece to look like, but bringing that vision into physical reality is something else.

My biggest discovery for the day was my love of free motion quilting, the life of the stitches, creating a rhythm of motion and breathing. One section, in particular, is long and horizontal, with long, rougly parallel lines of stitching running its length. In my practice pieces, I experimented with a normal presser foot and a walking foot — feed dogs up — as well as with a darning foot in free motion — feed dogs down. Because I had difficulty stitching smoothly at the long edge in free motion, I did the first few and the last few rows with the walking foot. But for the rest, I played joyfully in free motion. I have to say I like the subtle (well, at least as subtle as I can manage) irregularity of the stitches. I like using my breath to guide and time the movement. Here are some pictures of my results:

green quilting

turquoise quilting

purple quilting

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I spent the last ten days writing an article about the history and cultural context of the thangkas I make. I’ve posted it on my new Squidoo page and hope that you’ll visit and read it. A warning: it’s quite long and you’re in no way obligated to finish it! But I’d love to hear your feedback and comments.

So little research has been done on the textile forms of thangkas — embroidered, woven, and appliqué. People often write me asking for resources for their studies, and I give them the same few articles by Newark Museum Curator, Valrae Reynolds and one by historian of Tibetan art, Michael Henss. There are a lot of books about Tibetan painting, but the appliqué tradition usually only gets a paragraph, if that, and a couple of images.

It’s confusing to try to figure out exactly how the form evolved in the interplay of Tibetan painting and religious authority with Chinese (and Mongolian and Tangut) politico-economic power and silk textile production. I’ve done my best to summarize the history, the cultural context, the social structures, and the techniques of Tibetan fabric thangkas — drawing on the limited writings I’ve found as well as my own experience “in the field.” I hope it’s useful. I hope more research will be done. I hope you’ll correct my mistakes. And I look forward to learning more and sharing it with you.

I also have a rather trivial technical question for any of you web gurus out there… or anyone else who has an opinion:

Appliqué in English comes from the French and is spelled with an accent mark over the final “e”. But when English-speaking people type a search term in Google (or wherever else they may type it), I’m guessing they normally do it without the accent marks. There are no accented letters on US keyboards, and the special-character keyboard shortcuts may or may not work in your browser. Actually, as far as I can tell, Google doesn’t make a distinction as to whether I enter “applique” like most Americans would or “appliqué” like most French people or sticklers for spelling would. Since I like to spell things correctly, I use the accent mark in most of my writing. But since I want to be sure anyone who searches for Tibetan applique will find me, I throw in some instances without the accent mark. Does it matter?

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Click on the picture below to play the trailer of the documentary Isadora Leidenfrost and I have been working on.

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A trailer of the documentary film, Creating Buddhas, has been posted on the Soulful Media website. Isadora filmed my final stitches to the Green Tara thangka a couple of weeks ago and will complete editing in the coming months. She’s done some beautiful film work and conducted some insightful interviews with renowned scholars of Tibetan art, such as Robert Thurman, Glenn Mullin and Jonathan Landaw and with China Galland, noted writer on Tara and feminine spirituality. I love watching the thangkas from a third-person perspective and hearing other people talk about the preciousness of this tradition. It’s somewhat less comfortable hearing the narrator speak of me in grand terms. I’m not used to being in the public eye, and I usually feel that what I’m doing is nothing special… except in its special economic impracticality and extreme time consumption! It’s nice to be reminded of a different, more appreciative perspective.

Tara Trailer Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo hands drawing flower pieces stitching Tara Robert Thurman China Galland Glenn Mullin

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