Sunday, July 6, 2008

Bhutanese Sand Painting

At the Smithsonian Folklife Festival the featured country has been Bhutan, which is in the Himalayas. Bhutan's government has instituted a program focusing on the Gross National Happiness of its sparse population. On the Mall between the Capitol and the Washington Monument, a magnificent Buddhist temple has been erected. Dragons, tigers and swirling florals cover every inch, inside and out. Sweet incense drifts from the interior, where monks chant, play music, and answer questions. Tents shelter Bhutanese weavers, painters and carvers. Altars are draped with brilliantly colored silks sewn into the patchwork block we know as Broken Dishes. On these sat colorful ceramics reminiscent of the many-armed Tree of Life candelabra found in Mexico. Some of the weavings made me think of striped Guatemalan cloth, others of Laotian textiles. A cluster of children learned to wrap yarn around two crossed sticks to make what Mexicans call an Ojo de Dios. Art is universal. Many cultures share techniques, colors and motifs. This image is my favorite: a sand painting that has been carefully crafted over the past two weeks, with the knowledge that it is an ephemeral artwork. It's a piece of "here and now" for both the artists and the viewers.