Butter lamps’

One human figure takes up most of the space of this painting by Lhasa-based artist Penpa. But the canvas nonetheless abounds with other faces. Are these part of the larger figure? And if so, what is the position of those that exist outside the figure's bounds? Do the individual parts create the whole, or is it the whole that gives the parts life? Is the multitude of faces emerging or retreating? Do the figures themselves know the answers, or are the answers, too, in a state of flux?

A single snapshot of a profound transition, this image cannot tell us with any certainty whether the figure of the Buddha advances or withdraws. Perhaps it will do neither, instead remaining in a state of perpetual definition – existing to give form and meaning to the canvas but not asserting itself, refraining from obscuring the myriad other identities. Indeed, the diaphanous surface of the Buddha's body is chequered with the solid colours of other faces, its outlines – perhaps purposefully – broken and obscured and defined by the presence of others. This is part of a regular series of Himal's commentary on artwork by artists with the Lhasa-based Gedun Choephel Artists' Guild. Mixed media, acrylic with mineral pigments. 29 cm x 29 cm.

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Himal Southasian