Exiled monks create 'healing' image to commemorate attack

Tuesday, January 15, 2002

WASHINGTON -- Arranging an art show isn't just nailing a row of hooks to the wall.

These days, the Smithsonian Institution has to deal with artists like 20 Buddhist monks creating a symbolic depiction of the universe. It's a seven-foot horizontal circle on a low platform, called a mandala, done in millions of grains of colored sand.

Modern art opens new fields and sets new problems for gallery workers as well as artists. Installation experts at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, which is devoted to Asian art, found the project too big for their museum. They borrowed an underground exhibition space nearby and built raised seats so that 50 visitors can view the monks' work from above as it progresses.

Another 150 visitors at a time will be able to watch from eye level. A video monitor will be provided for people waiting to get in. Another monitor will be placed at the entrance to the gallery. A demonstration of the mandala at the gallery in 1998 drew 23,286 visitors in nine days.

The monks, from a branch in Atlanta of the Drepung Loseling monastery, are exiles from Lhasa, Tibet, which is under Chinese communist rule. At the request of their spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, they started work on a "healing mandala" in memory of the attack on the Pentagon and its victims four months ago. They have already created one in New York for the World Trade Center.

A half-hour ceremony of chants, music and mantra recitation will mark the start of the monks' work.

"For centuries, Tibetans have relied upon their sacred art to supplement meditation and prayer as an effective means of healing and protection in times of disaster, natural and otherwise," said Vidya Dehejia, acting director of the Sackler.

Prayer, chants and other ceremonies will accompany the monks' creation of the mandala, which continues until Jan. 27. When they finish, they will dump the sand into the Potomac River as a symbol of the impermanence of all things.

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