Tibetan painting symbolizes knowledge

Photo by Daniel Myers

Amber McKenna

Though his unimposing nature does not tell much about him, Tibetan artist Sonam Phuntsok’s painting speaks a thousand words, which is exactly
his intention.

“I want to deliver culture, educate and share ideas,” Phuntsok said.

Since the middle of September, the artist has been creating a traditional Thangka painting in Nicholson Library. He came to Linfield thanks to alumni Sherap and Eria Tharchen, class of 2005.

Sherap met Phuntsok at the Tibet Festival held annually in Washington.

“We had read about him and seen pictures of his work,” Sherap said. “We knew he was something special.”

There was one picture in particular that struck Sherap and Eria.

Phuntsok was commissioned by the Tibetan government in exile to do a Thangka painting for the library of the Tibetan Children’s Village in Dharamsala, India. The Children’s Village is a school, started by the Dalai Lama and the Indian government, for almost 2,000 children of Tibetan refugees.

“This painting, the Buddha of Wisdom, is very special,” Sherap said. “It represents studying through ignorance.”

It is a traditional image of the Buddha of Wisdom that Phuntsok has been diligently creating for two full weeks. The image focuses on education and the increase of knowledge. Phuntsok said the sword in the painting represents the sharpness of the mind and flames on the sword signify the way education burns away unawareness.

While a student at Linfield, Sherap worked in Nicholson Library for
four years.

“I knew the library would be the perfect place for Sonam,” Sherap said, “People can see him work from the beginning.”

For Phuntsok, the message of the painting is the most important part.

“People need to know the issues of Tibet that are not known in the world,” Phuntsok said. “There is oppression [in Tibet],
no freedom.”

He speaks from experience. A refugee of the conflict-ridden country, Phuntsok’s family escaped to India. From a young age, he was trained by his uncle in a variety of Tibetan and Buddhist arts. Phuntsok had the opportunity to study fine art in France. He spent years working as a translator in Switzerland and teaching in Nepal before eventually taking up residency in Portland in 2005, where his family joined him.

Phuntsok hopes to return to Tibet someday, after he becomes an American citizen, in order to show his children the unique culture that Tibet embodies.

For Sherap and Eria, bringing Phuntsok to campus was their way of giving back to Linfield. With the help of Kathleen Bemis, dean of the Department of Continuing Education, the Tharchens were able to bring Phuntsok to campus. The couple also brought Tibetan performers and musicians to Linfield in 2006.

Phuntsok’s visit will conclude Oct. 7 with a ceremony in the Miller Fine Arts Gallery. A Tibetan priest will do a blessing of the painting, and also on display will be a 16 feet by 22 feet piece the artist completed two years ago. The ceremony will be open to the public.

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