Introduction: Visual Culture of Tibet and the Himalayas

by Amy Heller and Leigh Miller

The research in this volume stems from a panel of the seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, convened in Bergen, 2016. The panel proposal read as follows:

Burgeoning interest in exhibitions and monographs of 'Tibetan art' has recently been followed by ' Zhang zhung art' and 'Himalayan art'. This panel will explore the myriad visual expressions which fall under these terms in the hope to situate benchmarks in the crystallization of how and what corresponds to Tibetan, Himalayan and Zhang zhung archaeological artefacts, art, architecture and cinema. For example, whether Zhang zhung art may be defined due to historiography (i.e. prior to the mid-7th century Tibetan conquest of the polity of Zhang zhung) or is this a geographically derived notion whose borders fluctuate over the centuries? What are the key concepts and works of art which define and interpret the values of visual culture (archaeological artefacts, art, architecture and cinema) produced by indigenous and foreign artists, male and female, throughout the long history and varied landscapes of this vast portion of the planet? Does conservation of cultural heritage promote a better understanding of material culture or does it contribute to create a fantasy of the past?

Topics are invited to range from study of specific cultural monuments or religious structures of Buddhism and Bon, secular architecture as well as series or individual works of art (murals, portable icons as well as stationary icons) and individual artists from pre-history to the 21st century.

The response to this panel proposal was enthusiastic, requiring two days of sessions to accomodate the presentations of 17 participants. The research spanned pre-historic archaeology, the Tibetan Empire, Art of the Western Himalayas from 11th - 16th century, Art and architecture of Central Tibet, as well as cinema, photography and art of the 20th and 21st centuries from Tibet and the Himalayas.

The panelists were:

John Bellezza: Typological studied of tiered ritual structures in the rock art of Tibet.

Laurianne Bruneau: In between Kashmir and Xinjiang: Buddhist remains of the Nubra region. Results of the Indo-French Archaeological Mission in Ladakh.

David Pritzker: Allegories of kingship: animal motifs in banquet ware of the Tibetan Empire.

Heinrich Poell: The Life of the Buddha on the door of the Alchi Dukhang
– iconography and art-historical considerations.

Nils Martin: New insights on some early Ladakhi murals of the “Alchi group of monuments”.

Christiane A. Kalantari: The Buddha-vita at Dung dkar, Western Tibet. Paper in Memoriam Prof. Tsering Gyalbo.

Christian Luczanits: Canonical illuminations: the visual subtext of a proto-Tibetan Buddhist canon of the 14th century from Mustang, Nepal.

Hans-Werner Klohe: Lama, lineage and likeness: some remarks on a set of portrait statues from Mustang.

Knud Larsen: The architecture of the Medical College on Chakpori, Lhasa. Upgraded plans based on new research.

Elisabeth Haderer: Tibetan art goes West – a further contribution to the transmission of traditional Tibetan Buddhist art to Europe in the 21st century.

Eva Seegers: Stūpas in Eastern Tibet after 1959.

Nicola Schneider: The female in contemporary Tibetan art: the artist Monsal Pekar (b. 1964).

Isabelle Henrion-Dourcy: Tibetan amateur fiction movies from the Gesar heartland: Imagi(ni)ng modernity in a ‘remote’ pastoral region of Kham

Françoise Robin: Tibetan women on Tibetan screen: (imagi)nation and gender in Tibet.

Leigh Miller: The ‘Look of Tibet’ without religion: cases in contemporary Tibetan art.

Patrick Sutherland: Re-imagining the frame: some reflections on contemporary photography in Spiti.

Amy Heller: Tibetan artists and Tibetan identity: who’s who and since when?

As some scholars preferred to publish elsewhere or to pursue their research in successive years, Sarah Richardson was invited to participate in this volume as her topic conceptually corresponded well, using the murals in the Shalu monastery to reflect on the relationship binding the literary description of art and the actual painted representations.

We are most grateful to for hosting this volume in the "articles" section which affords an opportunity for vast diffusion of the research. is a great boon allowing the inclusion of videos, photographs and illustrations which would be virtually inconceivable as well as prohibitively expensive in a printed volume.

May it be auspicious!

Amy Heller and Leigh Miller