When we speak about “the death of print,” what we’re really talking about is the decline of certain assumptions about print media and its claims on authority. “Pearl of the Snowlands: Buddhist Printing at the Derge Parkhang” provides fascinating insight into a culture for whom print remains vital to the transmission of meaning.
The Derge Parkhang is more than a printing house. Established in 1729, it is also a religious temple, a library, a museum and, for hardcore devotees of traditional Tibetan Buddhism, a pilgrimage site and tourist destination, all housed within a single institution—the only one of its kind that has survived in Tibet. (In recent decades the Chinese government has softened its hostile stance towards religion, enabling the Derge Parkhang to thrive).
The exhibition sheds light on the Temple’s inner workings via color photographs taken by Clifton Meador, Director of Columbia College’s MFA program in Interdisciplinary Book and Paper Arts, digital slideshows and a video projection, all of which provide step-by-step documentation of the papermaking and woodblock printing process. The exhibition’s many striking examples of sacred texts (most significantly, the sutra, or
holy scriptures) and thangka (meditational images) printed at the Derge Parkhang show the range of imagery and overall precision of the woodblock printing process. Traditional Tibetan Buddhists confer value and authority to the Derge Parkhang’s copies in part because each is made by human hands. Like the Temple, the woodblocks themselves are considered sacred. Even the water used to wash ink from the printing blocks is given holy status and collected for ritual cleansing and consumption. A bottle of this water sits on
display towards the front of the exhibition, the surprising clarity of its contents a reflection of the Temple’s own supremely focused activities. (Claudine Isé)
Through December 5 at the Center for Book & Paper Arts, 1104 S. Wabash Ave., 2nd floor.