Visitors to Sam Francis Gallery gathered around the table in a circle, much like the shape of the artwork on display before them: a beautiful “Wheel of Life” mandala that the Venerable Losang Samten made out of colored sand.
Samten, a renowned Tibetan scholar and former Buddhist monk, enlightened members of the Crossroads community with his wisdom and craftsmanship during a School residency at the 21st Street Campus exhibition space and on the Elementary School bridge on the Norton Campus.
The artist-in-residency projects gave students, parents, teachers and others the opportunity to see Samten at work and to learn about the meanings behind the mandala elements.
“I think it’s lovely. … He’s doing the art right there—you can come up and see what the artist is doing,” said junior Aristotle Hartzell, who tried his hand at using Samten’s special funnel tools. “It’s cool when the artists are here, and even cooler when they’re actually doing the art in front of you, so you get to learn about the process.”
During the Jan. 25 closing reception in Sam Francis Gallery, Samten discussed a range of concepts, from human desire to technology, as he explained the mandala’s imagery.
“We are so connected, yet are we happier? Do we come together more? We are more divided, more separated,” he said.
The next week, during the second part of his Crossroads residency, the artist created a mandala entitled “The Four Harmonious Friends” and spent time with Elementary School students.
Samten incorporated hearts into the design after sparking conversations with the young students about the concept of love. He also used sand from the Elementary School playground to make the piece, which included depictions of the Norton Campus and of a roadrunner, the Crossroads mascot.
At both closing receptions, attendees were invited to take part in special dismantling rituals. The use of sand is meant to convey the painful impermanence of existence. But, the artist said, “We all have the ability to overcome suffering.”