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  • Writer's pictureStacey Chiew

Tales From The Fabric Of Love

Tibetan thangka painting.

Recently I was given the honour to reproduce an antique Tibetan thangka painting. The thangka belongs to an American lama who resides in Malaysia for many years.

By making Malaysia his second home, he is able to amass many followers who believe in his teaching. A founder of several charitable foundations, he is famous for his community-driven work in Malaysia.

As an artist myself, I have seen how technology adds new possibilities to various artistic mediums in this modern era. By converting his thangka into digital art, he could give away the prints as gifts to his followers.

Over the years, the thangka has lost its borders and is heavily stained. The good news is, with the availability of technology, it can be restored to its formal glory. I was excited about the project. This project allowed me to bridge the gap between ancient wisdom and modern science. Without a doubt, the advancement of technology has enabled many artists to explore new creative ways to convey their ideas in their artworks.

The sacred art of thangka painting began in India more than 2600 years ago. It grew popular in Tibet after the Chinese princess Wencheng married the 33rd Tibetan king Songsten Gampo. She was responsible for spreading Buddha's teachings and paintings in Tibet.

Thangka paintings come in a variety of styles and colours. They are used for meditation and to convey iconographic information. No two thangka paintings are alike since the products are entirely handmade.

To convert the old thangka into a digital art form required time and patience, especially images of the deity were blur, stained, not to mention the original colours were permanently altered due to its natural ageing process. But it was still a very beautiful piece of art in its own unique way. Unlike most of the thangka paintings with elaborate designs, this one has deities with childlike expressions, there is an innocent quality to it.

Looking at its condition, I understood that even a subtle change in colours could alter the meaning of the original story. In a way, this project went beyond solving technical challenges as it contained the sacred visions of the original artist. To me, this was a bold attempt to alter the condition of an existing artwork that could have been used as part of the worship services in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries.

After some careful consideration, I decided to adopt a "fifty-fifty ownership" approach. I wanted to keep the antique feel of the original artwork, at the same time, technology is used to breathe new life into the existing painting. I believed this would be the best possible approach, by blending the old and the new to get the desired result.

After countless hours of work, the thangka slowly transformed itself into something new, modern and exciting. At the same time, it maintains its old historical charm. I could see a new role for it, whispering to its followers tales from the past.

In today’s world, the canvas is changing. Many artists have learned to use technologies to create art. They work with different software to bring their ideas into new forms of expressions. Despite many of us are fans of traditional art, we need to take a serious look at how science contributes to art.

In life, everything changes and change can sometimes be a beautiful thing. As an artist, I have always enjoyed the process of experimenting with art, materials and techniques. For sure, art has helped me learn to appreciate traditional cultural values, embrace diversity and different perspectives.

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