Disclaimer: We know this can be a tricky subject, and we at IGGPPC want to be inclusive and accepting of all people. The following article contains information on cultural appropriation and is intended to provide educational background about a particular art form. (For more background on cultural appropriation, see this article from Everyday Feminism.)
Art is in everything. It is one defining element in all cultures no matter where in the world you originate from… there is art. Art, in all its forms, also means very different things for each culture creating it. This is the first of an ongoing series looking at the origins of various current popular art forms in geek culture. This installment’s focus will be the mandala.
Art Across Cultures
There was a time in our history when art was very culturally specific. This was a time when there was no internet, or social media, and so every area (country, city, continent) produced art that was very unique to their culture, their ideals and their livelihood. Nowadays you still have artists who produce for their culture but really we have become a very cross-culturally-contaminated society.
The problem with cross-cultural modern art is the need to acknowledge and respect the origins of the art forms. To simply take imagery or symbolism from one society and use it within another without at least knowing where is comes from treads into the difficult waters of cultural appropriation. So I’m here to help you brush up on some of the more visible cultural art forms we use in day-to-day art, particularly in geek art, and say thank you to the cultures and people who brought them to us originally!
One extremely popular form of art these days is the mandala. I know you have seen them… they are in colouring books, on websites and you can even get some extremely geeky ones.
A mandala is originally an Indian art form that :
is an intricate geometrical pattern in a square or circular shape, symbolic of the cosmos and has religious and spiritual significance. The mandala exists in every aspect of life. Besides representing the non-material reality, the mandala also describes the material reality of life. The mandala represents the non-material reality of life in the form of celestial circles such as the sun, moon and earth. It also describes the material reality of life as represented by the conceptual circles of family, friends and community. Innovateaus
What’s especially neat with the mandala is that you can find variations of it in a large variety of cultures.
Within Indian traditions and religions there are a variety of mandalas, just as there are a variety of traditions. Each religion (known as Dharmic faiths) has its own symbolism and uses of these symbols. You will find mandalas on a lot of traditional Indian art including, but not limited to, woven art, painting, and even henna.
Within Buddhist culture, mandalas represent distinct concepts and purposes. There are Cosmic Mandalas, which represent a variety of wisdom and mediation needs. Medicine Mandalas help with healing and channeling the essence of Buddha. Each mandala has a specific meaning and role in the culture.
Finding mandalas in modern art isn’t difficult. Mandali is an American fashion designer who works mainly in Europe, the US, and India. In her most recent collection, she “crafted an interactive art installation called Mandala of Desires (Blue Lotus Wish Tree) made of peace silk and painted with eco-friendly textile ink resembling a lotus flower with branches of a tree upon which visitors could hang their desires. The dress will be taken to India and offered to a genuine wish tree in 2016.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandali_Mendrilla
This is only a tiny glimpse into the origin and history or the mandala. The next time you see one, you will know that there are many cultures (including some that I have not mentioned) in which you will regularly find the mandala, and can keep in mind the context into which the art is placed.
What do you think? Is there a cultural art form you would like to know more about?
Feature Image: (image found on Bohemian diesel but was not credited for original source)