Thangka master paints picture of peace at UN headquarters

The UN headquarters in New York is usually a raucous forum where the world's problems are dissected and debated, but when thangka painter Nyangbon visited he brought with him a pervading sense of peacefulness.

The renowned thangka painter from Qinghai province, who goes by one name, recently took part in a cultural exchange at the UN, where he urged people around the world to make safeguarding peace a priority.

At the invitation of Cindy Ye, president of the American New Line Express delivery company, Nyangbon met with Bradley Theodore, an emerging artist in the United States.

While preparing for his visit, Nyangbon learned that the UN was troubled by member nations' disputes and conflicts, budgetary problems and mistrust.

Nyangbon said while he is a firm believer that political dialogue and consultations are important means of solving disputes, art can also "work wonders".

Jack Rosen, president of the American Jewish Congress, said at the exchange event: "The wonderful artworks of Nyangbon have brought a sort of refreshing spring breeze to the UN thanks to the connotations of peace and harmony embedded in his paintings.

"Most of Nyangbon's works carry a strong sense of peace and tranquillity. They perfectly reflect the wonderful harmony between humans and between humans and nature, as well as Chinese people's strong aspirations for peace and a better life. This is one of the best ways for Americans to better understand China and the Chinese people."

Tranquil start 

Nyangbon recites sutras every morning to start his day in a tranquil way. He said an excellent thangka painter is, first and foremost, a devout practitioner of Buddhism.

"With day-to-day recitations, the Buddhist principles are being imperceptibly transferred to my spiritual world. As a result, this kind of peaceful state of mind will make my painting stroke a peaceful one as well," he said.

Before he starts to paint, he washes his hands and sits cross-legged, keeping his mind in a "respectful, silent and undistracted state".

"How peaceful you are and how much passion and love you are pouring into the painting determine the value of the art work," Nyangbon said.

"Every piece of my artwork is a perfect dialogue between the flesh and the spirit. Only by doing so can we present a meticulous and grand world with our paint brushes."

Nyangbon said he has always regarded painting thangka as a solemn and dedicated religious practice. "The painting process is a process of reunderstanding Buddhism, and a process of reunderstanding and re-examining the world."

The UN is not an unfamiliar place for Nyangbon who, together with Chinese pianist Lang Lang, was warmly welcomed by former UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon in 2014. Ban's gracious demeanor and scholarly ways, and what the UN was doing to improve people's livelihoods, left a deep impression on Nyangbon.

Ambitious scroll 

A State-level master of arts and crafts, Nyangbon began learning thangka painting at the age of 12.

Thangka refers to a mounted scroll painting that is hung in a monastery or over a family altar and sometimes carried by monks during religious events.

It is a distinctive painting style that covers many aspects of Tibetan life such as history, politics, culture and society.

Nyangbon runs the Regong Painting Academy that has many students from poor families. The academy, founded in 2006, has become a major teaching center for thangka painters.

Nyangbon said his apprentices are typically middle school graduates, as a nine-year education is compulsory in China. He believes education helps artisans become accomplished artists.

Regong art was made part of UNESCO's list of intangible cultural heritage in 2009.

"Thangka belongs to China and the world as well. As an inheritor of this art form, it is my responsibility to promote and carry forward this unique art," Nyangbon said.

Five years ago, he launched an ambitious project to paint a 1,000-meter-plus scroll that shows the development of Tibetan Buddhism and a wide spectrum of its culture.

Nyangbon, the scroll's chief designer and lead painter, has been working with dozens of senior thangka painters. So far, the team has completed more than 600 meters of the painting.

"I wish I could bring the giant painting to the UN when it is finished. What I really want to bring to the world is not merely the painting, but the spirit behind it," Nyangbon said.

Commenting on Nyangbon's artworks at the UN, New Yorker Austin Ricci said: "I didn't know thangka very well, but from Nyangbon's paintings, I have seen something very special-symmetry and balance. The world is now in bad need of symmetry and balance."