Asian Arts | Exhibitions
Tibetan Calligraphy Gallery | Indigo Gallery
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An exhibition of Tibetan Calligraphy
Forty-six works written in ink on paper by P. N. Dhumkhang

text and captions by Roberto Vitali

Dhumkhang La, who recently shared the art of the ancient Tibetan song in a singing, dancing and music performance at Indigo Gallery, will exhibit his calligraphic works, prepared for this occasion. Pairing selected styles of traditional Tibetan script with significant terms and phonemes Dhumkhang La presents the profound concepts of Buddhist philosophy in highly expressive visual solutions.

Tibetans normally credit the birth of their script to Thönmi Sambhota, a Minister of Songtsan gampo (617-650), sent to India to draw inspiration for a Tibetan alphabet. Thönmi Sambhota brought back to Tibet the proto-Sharada script of Kashmir taught to him by the Brahmin Lichin Kara. Songtsan gampo himself mastered the script, after many years. This introduction was embraced and quickly diffused throughout the land. In little over a century, Tibetan calligraphers had proliferated seven different scripts, some with innumerable further variations.

Tibetans are especially fond of calligraphy. They commonly use it to write mantras and prayers with white pebbles on the slopes of mountains. Since their invasion, the Chinese adopted this system for their propaganda. It occasional delighted the Tibetans, not surely by doctrinal contents but with cross-cultural gaffes. "Long life to Mao tse tung" was commonly produced this way. As "tshe thung" in Tibetan means "short life", Tibetans thought that it was especially funny to have to read "Long life to Mao short life".

Dhumkhang La selected the script that he deemed most appropriate for each theme, incorporating at least the following in the exhibition:

  • Uchan: a script of fine clarity especially appreciated for printing books;
  • Ume': cursive script equally used for personal and textual purposes;
  • Drugtsa: a version halfway between Uchan and Ume';
  • Ume' petsug: cursive script in squarish shape;
  • Tsugring: a more elongated petsug;
  • Kyuyig: cursive handwriting for daily use;
  • Horyig: a squarish version invented by Lama Phagpa, the Tibetan master of Khubilai Khan, to adapt Tibetan to the Mongol script, so that Mongols could read it;
  • Loden yigtsa: a highly ornamental squarish script.

In accordance with the traditional requirements, Dhumkhang La cuts his own pens from bamboo, and paints with black ink because red ink is reserved to the Dalai Lamas and other major religious leaders. In antiquity, Tibetans were known to have used inks made of mother-of-pearl, turquoise, gold, silver and other precious materials, but they fell outside the calligraphic tradition.

Dhumkhang la's works can be appreciated purely for their aesthetic beauty and, at the same time, for the profoundity of Tibetan philosophy expressed by simple strokes of a bamboo pen.

The artist's share of the exhibition proceeds will help to fund his commitment to reconstruct an ancient temple in Tibet, destroyed by the Chinese. Indigo Gallery has joined him in this effort by sponsoring the exhibition. We hope you enjoy the show .

Asian Arts | Exhibitions
Tibetan Calligraphy Gallery | Indigo Gallery