28 December 2012

Art Knows No Borders

Showing me photos of his recent trip to Vietnam, Ajahn Pei tells me that the Vietnamese artists he encountered don't like to have their work compared to Chinese art. Though there is an obvious sharing of artistic sensibility, tools, style and technique between the two countries.

He also points out that in the international workshops hosted in Thailand, Chinese and Japanese artists often don't speak to each other. They will also refuse to use tools and materials made in each other's countries.

In fact, since people have been migrating across the region from the beginning of history, I would guess that art and culture predate current the political boundaries that circumscribe "national identities". So it's only natural that people in adjoining countries would have a lot in common. This goes for art, as well as language, cuisine, dress, etc.

So the question is why does this divisive perspective prevail? Why don't we enjoy these connections rather than deny them?

My first guess is that it's a legacy of war.

My second guess is that it's like sibling rivalry. We are prone to dislike those who are a bit too similar to us.
They threaten our sense of uniqueness, our pride. But why?

This leads me to appreciate the work of my first teacher, Zen artist Kazuaki Tanahashi, who leads many projects to improve relations between China and Japan in the wake of the WWII atrocities in Nanjing.

If artists, who have license to think and work beyond conventional boundaries are not able to transcend them, then what hope do we have for the rest of the world?

I've experienced this divisiveness first-hand. Perhaps it is something that can only be resolved by working with children, who can shift the paradigm for the future.

But I believe that there is a power in art to move even the crustiest minds. It would be something to tackle in AKSHA's future programs--to create opportunities for people to rediscover their common humanity, and the joy of brotherhood on this small planet.

26 December 2012

The Path Before You is the Path to Your Dreams

On Christmas day 2011, one year ago, I found myself on a beach in Galle, Sri Lanka, at a meeting with the heads of several international NGOs. They asked me to draft a proposal for a program that could develop and support the livelihood of Buddhist artists throughout the South and Southeast Asian region. This was my dream job, so I got to work.

One month later, I had drafted a proposal for a hybrid program that included a future inter-cultural center for the study and practice of art and meditation. Two months later, we had a name: AKSHA.

Flash forward 10 months to yesterday, Christmas day 2012. AKSHA is now a real project on Kickstarter.com--raising almost 50% of its goal in less that 2 weeks.

It has a series of prototype products--jewelry--to help fund its first exhibition program. Meanwhile, I received a Fulbright Fellowship, and have been doing research on Buddhist art in contemporary life in Thailand for 3 months.

Ajahn Ouan
Similarly, on this Christmas day, I found myself at a meeting with luminaries, this time in Bangkok, at the Pohchang Academy of Art, one of the most famous art schools in Thailand. It is with the Director, department heads, respected professors and a visionary patron of the arts. I walked in late to the morning meeting and was promptly informed that I have been assigned the role of international spokesperson for the school. They have bestowed me with the responsibility of speaking for the local artists to the world at large.

You have to understand, Pohchang is not a pretty place. And I love Pohchang.

The Academy was founded by King Rama VI in 1913 to propagate the traditional arts during a period of increasing European influence. Being an old school--it is firmly established in tradition. A large percentage of Thailand's National Artists were trained within its halls. Yet, it remains unpretentious, a dusty, cluttered campus full of artifacts and refuse from generations of prolific art students. There has simply been no way for housekeeping to keep up.
Ajahn Pei
At Art Kaffee, a cool, funky coffeeshop next door run by the alumni association, we discussed the possibility of creating a program for foreigners wishing to spend time studying art and meditation in Thailand.

Ajahn Chu
Now, in my mind, a center for art and meditation is something in the distant future. A dream. But the meeting yesterday seemed to point to it as a distint possibility. If we are successful with launching AKSHA's wheel this year, there may be no limit to how far we can go.

18 December 2012

True Nobility

True nobility doesn't just come from how we adorn our bodies. It emanates from what is going on within.

That is why we have the emphasis on creating artful objects that are supports to meditation--to cultivating and nourishing our inner health.

Ultimately, our external reality, the quality of our life is affected by the openness of our hearts and the clarity of our minds.

Consumption is part of our world. Can it also be part of our practice to become better, happier, healthier human beings?