In conjunction with this Autumn’s Asian Art in London, Rossi & Rossi opens In-Between, an exhibition showcasing the artistic brilliance found in a group of Tibetan carved wood manuscript covers. Dating from the 12th to the 15th centuries, the varied covers will be presented alongside contemporary pieces produced in direct response to them. Nearly 30 new Tibetan sculptures and paintings are set to be on display and they each provide a commentary on the stunning survivors. Curated by Tenzing Rigdol, some of the artists involved are Marie-Dolma Chophel, Gade, Rabkar Wangchuk and Palden Weinreb, besides many more.
The classical manuscript covers are hugely influenced by Tibet and the Buddhist faith. At one time these items acted as both the protection and the entrance of sacred Buddhist texts. Because they are regarded as part of the Dharma (The Teaching), one of the Triratna (The Three Jewels – Buddha, Dharma and Sangha– meaning the community), they are to be revered as greatly as one would the Buddha. Originally, the works would have been commissioned specifically by monasteries or wealthy families to preserve the sacred texts of the Buddhist canon. Constructed from hardwood, a material difficult to obtain in Central Tibet, these covers were extremely expensive and they were often intricately carved and meticulously painted and gilded. Brought together in one exhibition, they represent some of the finest early Tibetan craftsmanship and artistry.
Prior to the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1951, it has been suggested that there were between 3,000 and 5,000 monasteries in the region, all of which would have aspired to have the complete Buddhist canon in their libraries. However, during the Cultural Revolution certain parts of traditional Buddhist culture such as Tibetan manuscripts were declared forces of evil and destroyed. Fleeing Tibetans managed to transport some of the manuscripts as they escaped, but the rare hardwood material meant the covers were often re-used as washing boards, chopping boards and pastry moulds. Consequently, many of the remaining artifacts are without their scriptures and detached from their intended function. The carved wood pieces are not only striking works of art but also reminders of the reverence for sacred texts in Tibetan culture and stand as symbols of conflict.
Influenced by this rich and diverse history, the contemporary artists have reacted in different ways. Their art seeks to replace what has been lost with a new reality and an interpretation of themselves and their Tibetan identity. Developing a conversation that runs from the past to the present, the pieces provide a critique on development, tradition, modernity and national and individual identity. Using the covers as a springboard, the practitioners have layered them with their individuals ideas on the history of Tibet, loss and displacement and their families’ histories, amongst others. Although the final pieces reflect a variety of approaches and personal artistic interests, they collectively demonstrate the struggles of a people stripped of nationhood, identity and meaning.
In-Between, 31 October – 28 November, Rossi & Rossi, 16 Clifford Street, London, W1S 3RG.
1. Manuscript cover with Three Images of Achala (study) 2013 Pierced aluminium can 15.8 x 6.3 cm (6¼ x 2½ in).
2. Manuscript cover with Three Buddhas,Carved, painted and gilded wood Tibet, 13th century, 26.5 x 73 x 2.5 cm(10½ x 28¾ x 1 in).
3. TaNor Typeface(detail)2013 Acrylic on canvas 30 works,each: 39 x 32 cm(15¼ x 12½ in).