Ghouls, Gourds and Mandalas

This weekend I went to check out the not-so-scary Halloween event Ghouls and Gourds at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden.  It was an amazing event with thousands of families making art, listening to music and exploring the Garden (one of my favorite places in NYC).  Kimberly Carmody from Urban River Arts had invited me to take a look at two mandala art projects that her organization facilitated throughout the day. Now, at the Rubin we spend a lot of time talking about mandalas.  In a traditional context, a mandala is a tool that helps viewers understand themselves and their relation to the universe, and is generally depicted with a strong central image and concentric circles and squares representing a palace and surrounding areas.  The basic depictions of mandalas have been inspirations for many artists over time, so I’m always curious to see how contemporary arts groups reinterpret these cosmic designs.

Urban River Arts had two great interpretations: a beautiful participatory pumpkin piece that let families create an incredibly organized design called the Pumpkin Patchwork Project, and the Urban Mandala which utilized recycled materials.

The Pumpkin project was really a beautiful exercise in control and pattern, and the Urban Mandala  reinterpreted recycling and the ideas of impermanent artwork (all of the materials are going to be reused).

One of my favorite parts of the Urban Mandala were these slightly creepy dolls that a participant placed around the inner circle.

In many traditional Himalayan mandalas numerous figures are drawn or sculpted around a central figure or deity.  The figures are considered the deity’s retinue or entourage, and usually are striking a symbolic hand gesture (or mudra) .  These peculiar, little dolls seem to have a calm nature amidst all of the craft mayhem happening around them (and see if you can spot the two on the other side of the circle looking longingly off into the distance – I wonder what they’re thinking about?).

During our exhibition, Mandala: The Perfect Circle, our Design, Curatorial, and Education teams spent a long time trying to figure out the best ways to explore the concept of the mandala.  In our Explore Area (an in-gallery interactive area), we constructed a hands-on Mandala interactive (think: large puzzle table) and reconfigured it to be an on-line Mandala interactive experience that explores the elements of a Mandala, and you can even print out your own Mandala-like design.

Our Mandala show closed almost a year ago (and I miss it!), but many of the beautiful mandalas featured in the exhibition are now in The Nepalese Legacy exhibition currently on our 6th floor.

I know that I am not the first person to ask this question, but I always wonder, what draws people into this fantastic shape?  Why is it about the circle and square that fascinate so many people?

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