Quiet Corner Whispers: UConn exhibit explores Tibet

By MARGE HOSKIN, The Norwich Bulletin, Nov 18, 2008

Storrs, CT (USA) -- Humanitarian and movie star Richard Gere (“Pretty Woman,” “Chicago”) wrote to me and others recently requesting that we contribute to his nonprofit foundation whose primary goal is to preserve the culture of Tibet. Tibet was absorbed by China in 1959, prompting the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual and political leader, to flee to India.

The William Benton Museum of Art at the University of Connecticut in Storrs is doing its part to save Tibetan culture with its current exhibit presented in an array of media.

Earlier this month, two Tibetan Buddhist monks from Namgyal Monastery in Utica, N.Y., applied different colored sands grain by grain to complete a Sand Mandala or Circle of Enlightenment. The tradition dates back to the 6th century B.C. During the multi-day creation of the mandala, dozens of people joined the monks for morning prayers.

The mandala will be displayed until 2 p.m. Dec. 7, when the monks will return to ceremoniously sweep the colorful sands into an urn and deposit them into the waters of Mirror Lake to remind us of the impermanence of all good things.

Tibetan tangkas, fabric art pieces depicting Buddhist divinities, hang on the walls of the East Gallery where the mandala is displayed. Because few Tibetans learned to read and write, the portable scrolls provided a pictorial spiritual lesson.

Sheila Rock’s astonishingly lovely, black-and-white photographic essay of the daily life of the Tibetan Buddhist monks of Sera Monastery in southern India fills the Gilman Gallery. Rock is an established London fashion and portrait photographer.

The museum Web site, www.thebenton.org, lists opportunities to hear gallery talks or view documentaries related to the exhibit.

In the 1950s, I knew the original section of the Benton museum as “The Beanery,” built in 1920 as the campus dining hall. The museum was established there in 1967 and expanded in 2005. In recent years it has become more involved with human rights issues such as that of the Tibetan Buddhists.

The current exhibit is satisfying, thought-provoking and well worth a visit. Richard Gere would be pleased!