March 31, 2014 -- Ten years ago, a 60-year-old Tibetan Thangka artist Shedar spent a whole year drawing a Tibetan Thangka painting "Yamantaka," a God of Tibetan Buddhism with blue skin and 34 arms. Now this traditional Tibetan art has traveled a long way from China to South Korea, offering the local audience a glimpse into its beauty and mystery.
A Thangka exhibition from China's Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Gannan, northwest China's Gansu Province, opened in Seoul on Thursday, featuring 14 Tibetan Thangka paintings as part of the "A thousand Gannan Thangka" program.
The exhibition, which will last until March.4, is co-sponsored by China's Ministry of Culture, the provincial government of Gansu, and the Chinese Culture Center in Seoul.
Thangka is a traditional Tibetan painting usually depicting a Buddhist deity, scene or mandala and embroidered by a textile mounting. It is intended to serve as a guide for contemplative experience or praying. With a history of more than 1,300 years, Thangka is seen as the encyclopedia of Tibetan culture.
Supported by the government of Gansu province, Gannan Lingcheng Tibetan Cultural & Scientific Development Corporation launched the "A thousand Gannan Thangka program" in 2003, gathering 120 Thangka artists to draw a thousand of traditional Tibetan Thangkas in the past 10 years. This is the first-ever full records of Tibetan Thangka art with the theme of Tibetan Buddism, medicine, astronomy, opera and others.
It is also the first time for several works of the "A thousand Gannan Thangka"program to be displayed overseas. The 14 Thangka paintings exhibited in Seoul are mainly about God and Goddess in Tibetan Buddhism such as the founder of Buddhism Sakyamuni, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, Green Tara and White Tara, all of which were strictly followed the old Thangka painting rules and colored by natural mineral pigments.
"Thangka is the most important media that tells the story of Tibetan culture. Through this exhibition, we hope to spread our splendid culture to Korean audience and also exchange experiences in protecting and developing culture with our Korean counterparts, "said Gesang Chialai, chairman of the corporation.
Monk Wukong of Jogye Order, a representative order of traditional Korean Buddhism, said he was deeply impressed by this unique art.
"I was surprised that Tibetan Buddhism art and Korean Buddhism art have a lot of similarities and differences. I believe this exhibition will offer new momentum for China-South Korean cultural exchange," he said, adding that he would like to visit Gannan to see the drawing process.
The Tibetan Thangka art are increasingly popular around the world. Old Thangkas produced in 12th to 15th centuries has long been collected by western museums. Nowadays, the new Thangka painted by contemporary Tibetan artists have become the favorite at the global artwork investment and collection market.
Many U.S. and European customers have bought Thangkas from Gesang's company. Some other Thangka companies in Gannan have sold their paintings to Southeast Asia.
"Gansu province has rich culture resources but also suffered by lagging economy. So our willingness to help our culture to reach out to the world is more urgent than any other province. We have invested 300 million yuan to establish a foundation to preserve, develop and promote our traditional culture," said Wang Wenquan, vice director of the cultural department of Gansu province.
Gesang said he believed that besides the financial support, a combination of traditional art and modern technology is also necessary for spreading Thangka art to the world.
His company is now producing the digital album for the 1,000 Thangkas, which contains detailed descriptions of certain Thangka in Chinese, Tibetan and English.
"We are now cooperating with some animation companies, trying to apply some Thangka drawing skills to animation production. Maybe in future you will see 3D Thangka," said Gesang.
He said it will also encourage more young people to select Thangka painting as their career.