Before you even walk through the glass doors of the UCSB Art Museum you hear a constant “chingchingchingchingchingching,” like someone running next to a wire fence with a stick in their hand. The sound only increases upon entrance and goes on to completely encompass you, as it does the room. It’s not annoying however, it feels as if the noise was meant to be there, as part of the space itself. There’s a sense that the noise should stop; all of the monks would put their hands down with the patterns in the sand incomplete, and all the atoms in the air would also stop moving.
The University Art Museum is filled with people who came to witness the traditional Tibetan sand painting ceremony being performed by skilled, patient monks clad in red robes as bright as the sands they paint with. The quiet, diligent monks from Drepung Loseling Monastery began their work in the UCSB Art Museum on Monday, April 20 and ended on Saturday, April 25 when the piece was ceremoniously destroyed and the sand returned to nature. The image they created, a mandala, is rich in symbolism and the act of its destruction is just as fraught with meaning. The image is a representation of the universe and the dismantling ceremony is a reminder of the evanescence of life.
The entire ceremony of creating the sand painting and then destroying it was done for the “Toward Enlightenment: the Sacred Art of Tibet” exhibit, which will remain for all to visit until June 14. The presentation was done in conjunction with the visit of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama’s fourth visit to the university at the Thunderdome on Friday, April 24. The exhibit’s presentation was organized by the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City in conjunction with the University Art Museum.
As you walk through the exhibit, drifting past hanging frames of other mandalas, in the back is a station with another sand-constructed mandala. In this room there is a mandala do-it-yourself station, and all are invited to try, even children. Available are the same type of tools the monks used, along with similar colors used on the real mandala in the other rooms. Instead of monks in red stroking a thin metal rod against a long narrow funnel, are normal hands. The images on the art framed and hanging on the walls are difficult to understand for the untrained eye. Only those with proper education and prior understanding of the images, culture, and symbolism could fully comprehend it.
Even if they were difficult to digest, the beauty of the numerous images in the exhibit were easy to admire and appreciate. The monstrous, twisting forms could be creatures or gods, but were nonetheless representatives of a culture that might be different or difficult to understand, but still deserving of respect. The very presence of admirers standing before the glass panes support the notion.
If your eyes grew tired from staring at the grains of sand falling from a narrow metal funnel, very much like a piece of paper immature students would roll up to create flimsy horns, the bright colors against the wall drew your eyes to something different. Against the dull white walls stood a table with a picture of the Dalai Lama framed, and surrounded by objects and instruments just as colorful as the sands that create the mandala. The walls of the room in which the monks were working were all white, but like the sound of the “chingchingchingchingchingching” from the monks’ metal paintbrushes filling the space, the colors seemed to make the entire room a rainbow of bright, vibrant colors. Just as you breathed the sound of the rod rubbing against the funnel, you breathed in the colors. The table with their bowls of dyed sand were like a large paint palette. The monks themselves with their bright robes were part of the art. With viewers watching, having the sound fill their ears, the colors fill their eyes, and the ideas fill their minds, everyone and everything seemed to be part of the picture, the big picture.