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Karma Phuntsok

(Tibet 1952 – )

Chairman Mao
Place of origin
Media category
Materials used
synthetic polymer paint on canvas

106.0 x 75.5 x 3.0 cm

Signature & date
Signed and dated l.r. corner, white paint "[character/s, not translated] Karma Phuntsok 2000".
Gift of the artist 2000
Accession number
Not on display
Further information

The Dalai Lama has told us that we learn our most important lessons about compassion from our greatest enemies and that we lose the most when we lose our sense of compassion for them. This profound teaching, so easy to understand but so difficult to put into practice, is the key to this confronting and challenging work by Tibetan artist Karma Phuntsok.

Tibetans have been remarkably free of rancour and hatred for the Chinese who invaded their country in 1949 and inflicted and continue to inflict untold sufferings on them.

This painting received a mixed reception when exhibited in Dharamsala, the north-west Indian home of several thousand Tibetan refugees, and place of exile of the Dalai Lama.

The painting focuses attention on a Buddhist principle, that of Universal Buddha-Nature, something we all - even Mao Zedong - have in equal measure, but clouded and tarnished to varying degrees. And it was perhaps this image of Mao that caused such a cool reception, for he is perceived as the sole architect of Tibet's problems, and it was understandably difficult for Tibetans to accord him the same spiritual status as everybody else.

Karma Phuntsok here combines the skills of the traditional Tibetan 'Lharipa', the 'Drawer of the Gods', and those of the modern artist with an ever-changing array of ideas, intuitions and insights. The painting is compassionate for two reasons. It is flattering in its portrayal of Mao the man and it juxtaposes the Buddha's mind and Mao's at the same level. In doing so it poses the difficult question - are both 'equal' or are we forced to make a distinction between them? Karma Phuntsok continues to challenge us with every viewing of this remarkable work.

David Templeman, Buddha: Radiant Awakening, 2001, pg. 175.

Reference: Ed. Ann Macarthur, TAASA Review: The journal of the Asian arts society of Australia, Asian Arts Society of Austalia, Potts Point, Quarterly, Dec. 1999 Vol.8 No.4, 'Thangka artist Karma Phuntsok' by Gabriel Lafitte, pg. 22-23. 23 (colour illus.) Note that this publication refers to a similar painting by the artist.

Asian Art Department, AGNSW, March 2001.

Bibliography (1)

Jackie Menzies (Editor), Buddha: Radiant awakening, Sydney, 2001, 175 (colour illus.), 188. 129

Exhibition history (1)

Buddha: Radiant awakening, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 10 Nov 2001–24 Feb 2002