Tibet’s Secret Temple Exhibition at the Wellcome Collection
The world we see is a painting
Born from the brush of discursive thought.
Within or upon it nothing truly existent can be found.
knowing this one knows reality;
seeing this one sees what is true.
Second Dalai Lama (1475-1542). Quote reproduced from exhibition
Tibet’s Secret Temple Exhibition continues at the Welcome Collection until 28 February 2016. Tracing body, mind and meditation in Tantric Buddhism the displays examine the history of Tibetan Buddhist yogic and meditational practice and their connections to physical and mental wellbeing. The Lukhang secret temple built during the reigns of the fifth and sixth Dalai Lamas provided a sanctuary for the Dalai Lamas to use on their journeys towards enlightenment. The heart and inspiration of the exhibition contains virtually recreated images by Photographer Thomas Laird of three of the 17th century murals which adorn the top floor of the temple’s meditation chamber. The murals contain visual instructions into practices and beliefs of Tibetan Buddhism.
After a freelance day of facilitating an arts meeting in London I thought I might not have the stamina to fully engage with this exhibition. I’m glad I trusted that the exhibition would inspire and lift my spirits. The exhibition is wordy and has a wide-ranging focus, but it is elegantly curated and immersive. Beginning with a contemporary film by David Bickerstaff capturing the journey by boat to the Lukhang, the film situates the Lukhang in context to Lhasa today with the sights and sounds of devotional life in Tibet’s capital city. Twelve themed rooms then lead on from each other, filled with 120 artefacts including scroll paintings, statues, manuscripts and films each exploring a different aspect of the Lukhang; Tibetan Buddhist belief systems; and contemporary understandings of meditation and wellbeing.
Themed areas are:
Radiating a sense of continuum and a plethora of dynamic practice, the exhibition will offer different highlights to different folks and includes documentation of performance practices. I particularly enjoyed the room of yogas of fire and light; depictions of Chöd practices; and images of the adepts of Tantric Buddhism, the mahasiddhas, who follow their own independent paths outwith a more uniform monastery route and look joyfully maverick in the photographs. I was enchanted by the sense of a wilder perhaps more autarchical way of being rather than following a linear path.
The image above is of an 18th Century depiction of Garuda. (Copyright: Trustees of the British Museum). I loved this particular Garuda!
To some extent the display commodifies its subject and exaggerates the ‘secrecy / unseen’ element of the murals and practices in order to tantalise a lay audience. Yet this is a high quality and considered exhibition which has many rarely seen objects on show. It is also an expansive exhibition with joyful and intimate sculptures on show and intriguing depictions of unfamiliar meditation methods.
Wellcome have a variety of events associated with Tibet’s Secret Temple exhibition including:
This exhibition overlaps with a new Wellcome collection exhibition States of Mind: Tracing the edges of consciousness beginning 4 February until 16 October 2016.
States of Mind will ‘examine perspectives from artists, psychologists, philosophers and neuroscientists to interrogate our understanding of the conscious experience. Exploring phenomena such as somnambulism, synaesthesia, and disorders of memory and consciousness, the exhibition will examine ideas around the nature of consciousness, and in particular what can happen when our typical conscious experience is interrupted, damaged or undermined.’ The show features a series of changing installations. The first one will be ‘The Whisper Heard’ by Imogen Stidworthy, from 4 February until 24 April.
MINDFULNESS AND PERFORMANCE