Virtual Treasures

The Himalayan Art Project to the rescue

Joan Duncan Oliver

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Since the Chinese takeover of Tibet in 1959, as thousands of Tibetans have fanned out across the globe, there has been increased interest in all things relating to Tibetan Buddhism, including the sacred arts of the Himalayan region—Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal, Sikkim, and northern India—and surrounding areas. Much of this artwork is in museums and private collections in the West, where it serves as a bittersweet reminder of the once-flourishing monastic centers and teeming dharma life in the lands the exiles left behind.

Among the most compelling works are the thangkas—scroll paintings of deities, lamas, and other dignitaries that are central to Tibetan culture and Buddhist practice. Today, collectors who prize them for their beauty and execution often understand little of their history or spiritual significance. And even scholars, art historians, and Buddhist practitioners at times find the iconography mystifying.

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