Library showcases Buddhist art

By Matthew Karmel, The Daily Targum, Sept 19, 2005

New Brunswick, NJ (USA) -- Tucked amidst a room stacked with books in the Mabel Smith Douglass Library, lies an array of intricately carved artifacts - some dating back as early as 800 A.D.

The exhibit - first originating in late August and scheduled to run until Oct. 31 - was initially conceived in response to the upcoming arrival of the Dalai Lama.

These are pieces from the library's latest artistic installation, titled "Cabinet of Tibetan and Newari Arts and Musical Responses."

The exhibit itself is rooted in historical Buddhist lore.

Part of a much larger collection, the exhibit features Tibetan artifacts on loan from the Fazio family.

"My husband acquired much of our collection while in Nepal with the Peace Corps," said Helen Asquine Fazio, a large contributor to the exhibit and current University professor. "The Thanka paintings were even carried out of Tibet by a refugee family in the late '70s."

The display aims to reflect the complexities of Tibetan culture, with particular emphasis placed on Buddhist ideology.

What makes the exhibit particularly unique, however, is its subversion of expectations.

"When most students think Buddhism, they only think of the good and peaceful side," said Kayo Denda, the women's studies librarian. "But like in any religion, there is the good and the bad, the humane and the divine."

Thus, the display features "Tibet's wrathful Buddhist deities" in conjunction with traditional, peaceful landscapes.

"Upon confronting Tibetan art for the first time, students are often confused and almost threatened by the ferocious quality and beautiful nature of this type of art," Fazio said.

Exploring not only the fiercer components of Buddhism, the display also depicts the Buddhist approach to sexuality.

"We chose these specific pieces of art because they reflect the Tibetan emphasis placed on feminity and the strong active force existing between the two genders," Fazio said.

Similar to the Tibetan duality approach to gender, there is a duality to the exhibit itself. It features both physical art, as well as musical composition.

The music on display consists of hand-scribed scores, one of which is titled "Peace Piece I." Composed by the late Lou Harrison, who was a practicing American Buddhist, the piece will be performed before the Dalai Lama by Patrick Gardner and the Rutgers Kirkpatrick Choir on Sept. 25.

"This song has been called the Buddhist text on kindness," said John Shepard, the music and performing arts librarian of Douglass Library. "It teaches we should treat others as a mother treats her children."