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.