Saturday, November 24, 2007
The above is a painting by Thai artist Anupong Chantorn entitled "Bhikku Sandan Ka," a literal translation of which would be "monks with crows' heredities." The depiction of two monk-like figures sporting bird beaks and feeding from an alms bowl is painted with acrylic colours on a piece of cloth taken from a traditional Buddhist monk's robe.
As might be expected:
... the painting couldn't fail to offend some Buddhists for its surreal depiction of monks. Some claimed that, as the artist chose to depict the bad side of the monkhood instead of its many good aspects that many other artists have portrayed, the painting was created with ill intent and to insult the religion.
The reality might be somewhat different. During his art training Anupong studied conventional Buddhist art, particularly murals portraying scenes from heaven and hell painted on chapel walls.
Anupong believes he was particularly drawn towards these visions of hell because they corresponded to what he was taught in his rural upbringing about life after death, in which one can become an evil spirit as a result of bad karma.
"It's like a good-will stratagem of adults to keep children well-behaved, like you'd become a pret, such as an evil hungry ghost with a mouth the size of a needle hole if you talked back to your parents or with hands the size of a fan palm if you hit them. It's a very ordinary child rearing strategy of Thai families, although it's not found in urban areas."
The appreciation of murals depicting hell that Anupong felt so strongly ... planted the seed of his "Pret" series, which Bhikku Sandan Ka is a part of. ... With a main canvas depicting the whole inferno, Anupong placed within it several other framed images representing various plains of hell as described in the cosmological classic, Trai Bhumi Phra Ruang. Anupong said the series underwent much evolution and transformation before becoming what it is today. ...
The problem, then, may lay more in the practice of using scare tactics on children, without knowing whether they will grow up to be artists who will reflect back your own internal ugliness. And unexpected consequences often come with the best of intentions.
"In the case of Bhikku Sandan Ka, [that term] is actually mentioned in the Tipitaka when Lord Buddha described the characteristics of sham monks. As an artist, I only visualised the image and reflected it in my work." ...
"As a Buddhist, I felt strongly affected by the situation that there are certain people, the sham monks, who take advantage of people's faith for their own gains. The motivation behind my painting is not at all different from the way my mother and my grandparents warned me about the outcome of evil acts: It's to warn those who are doing evil acts of what they will become and to remind other Buddhists that those evil people really exist in our society and that they should be distinguished from good monks."
In this country, we give sham monks television shows and take away their need for a begging bowl.