Prayers at an Exhibition: Bhutan’s Art and the Monks Who Protect It

September 6, 2008

Author: Jaime Gross

Source: The New York Times

On a recent afternoon, art handlers in T-shirts and tattoos paced the sixth-floor gallery of the Rubin Museum of Art, wielding levels and hammers as museum employees with clipboards leaned over tables laden with gold and bronze sculptures.

Cowering slightly in a corner in ruby and orange robes were two shy visitors, Lama Karma Tenzin and Lopen Sonam Wangchuk, monks from the remote Himalayan Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan. They had arrived in New York six days earlier on a weighty mission: to appease and console, through daily prayer and meditation, a fleet of protective deities.

For the next four months the monks will live in Greenwich Village and spend their days at the Rubin, on West 17th Street in Chelsea. Twice daily they will perform puja rituals in the museum galleries to safeguard the spiritual well-being of the sacred artworks, which have traveled here for “The Dragon’s Gift: The Sacred Arts of Bhutan,” an exhibition that is to open on Sept. 19.

Buddhist belief holds that these objects actually embody the deities and lamas, or holy men, whose images and life stories they portray. Most of these objects have never traveled outside Bhutan, and the Bhutanese government let them go on the condition that they be spiritually chaperoned, as it were, by a changing roster of monks during the exhibition’s two-year journey from museum to museum.

See also: Buddhism, Arts/Media