The Buddha side of art

The Asian Age.  | Sean Colin Young

Life, Art

An exhibition that explores the teachings of Buddha, with a contemporary twist.

Painting by Stanzin Nyantak

Historians and philosophers explore the Buddhist philosophy of Zen even today. But what many do not realise is how intriguing this subject looks on a canvas. It is with the aim to bring out the artistic side of Buddha and his philosophy that the Art Konsult—Art Gallery in the capital is presently hosting an exhibition titled ‘Looking Inward’ at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) in the capital.

There is an array of artwork on display that ranges from sculptures to Thangka (Tibetan Buddhist) paintings, and involves the use of various mediums, such as oil and acrylic. The works are separated in three categories: ‘Buddha’, where various artists represent the divine figure in the physical form; ‘Zen’, which is Buddha’s philosophy expressed using abstract paintings; and Thangka, which show Buddha in a traditional form.

In a chat with Siddhartha Tagore, the curator of the exhibition, we learn that there is a reason why these creations were categorised this way. He explains, “Otherwise, people may ask, ‘why do you want to include abstract work in an exhibition of Buddha?’ when he is not showcased as such. So, we thought, it was necessary to make the division.”

The highlight of the show is the Thangka art that incorporates traditionality in terms of aesthetics, and modernity in terms of contemporary themes. What makes it stand out is simply the method that is involved in making one. Tagore continues, “They are different from all traditional art because layer after layer of paint isused here. In the paintings, there is a front profile and then there is the concept of layering paints where you start with white, and then use paints of another colour.”

The other thing worth noticing at the exhibition is the serene and calm environment that these paintings create. They use an amalgam of bright and dark shades, but with just the right balance. “There is a kind of harmony and peace shown here,” Tagore says and adds, “The subject itself is harmonious. A painting of Buddha will have a harmonious effect before you even start painting it.”

Noteworthy paintings  that one shouldn’t miss here include Dharmendra Rathore’s painting that depicts Mahatma Gandhi and Buddha on the same canvas, highlighting the string of commonality that connects the two. The other one is Puneet Kaushik’s depiction of the Bodhi Tree, symbolising wisdom, compassion, and awareness.

“Apart from these paintings being philosophical, they are contemporary as they are not just talking about what the Buddha said in the past, but they are developing and re-developing his thoughts and ideas,” he concludes.

The exhibition is a part of the Inner Path Festival at NGMA