Thursday, June 24, 2021

More of one thing leading to another / Tibet: Through the Red Box / Remembering Oboe


Long long ago, in the early days of the pandemic, an artist friend of mine said that she had a book that she thought I might like to read.  For one reason or another, she wasn't able to bring the book to me during the past year.  A week or so ago, I went to her house for the first time in more than a year to visit and borrow the book.

First some backstory.  Some years ago I went to see an exhibit of diverse art work created in the context of climate change.  Of the many art works, there was one that stood out.  It was a felted wool jacket with inlaid drawings made using strands of handspun wool.  There had been an arrangement for the artist to live in a village in Nunavut in order to learn from the women who lived there.  The felted wool jacket was inspired by her time spent with the women in the Nunavut village.  As I read the information to the side of the beautiful jacket, I was surprised to see that the artist had grown up in the same small oil town in the desert in the San Joaquin Valley where my family had lived from 1954 to 1957 because of my father's job with Standard Oil which later became Chevron.  The artist's father had worked for the same oil company as an engineer.  Both the artist and I and the majority of children who lived there were exposed to, if not sprayed with DDT when the trucks came through the streets of the neighborhoods where we played.

I wrote down the email address of the artist and emailed her to let her know that, in my opinion, her jacket was the best art work in the exhibit and that I had also lived in Taft, California.  We emailed, then talked on the phone and became friends.

She was absolutely right in thinking I would enjoy the book, both the story and the detailed art work, including mandalas.  I liked it so much that I wanted to read other books for children by Peter Sis and found that our public library has a good collection of them.  My friend also has a collection that she offered to loan to me.

Peter Sis' book was inspired by the experiences his father had as a documentary filmmaker in the 1950s in Tibet where he had been hired by the Chinese government in their process of building a highway into Tibet.  There was a stressful period of time where Peter's father's whereabouts were unknown.  Peter and his family awaited his return to Czechoslovakia.  With some Googling, I found Vladimir Sis and Josef Vanis' documentary in Czech which is available here and bought a copy of the 1970 translation of their book originally published in Czech in 1955 or 1956 or 1957 (depending on the source).

The book begins with a series of short essay/stories which are followed by 224 photographs, including the Dalai Lama photographed as a young man by Vladimir Sis, along with photos of life in Tibet before the Chinese occupation.

Here is something about the documentary:

The first and only western visitors (although coming from the Eastern Soviet Bloc) to Lhasa after a three-year gap following the visit of Americans, father and son Lowell Thomas (summer 1949) and Austrians Heinrich Harrer and Peter Aufschnaiter (December 1950) were Czechoslovak army filmmakers Vladimir Sis (7 July 1925 – 7 September 2001) and Josef Vanis (6 January 1927 – 12 February 2009), who stayed in Tibet for ten months in years 1954-1955. They shot an hours documentary film in cooperation with the Peoples Liberation Army Film Studio (established on 1 August, 1952, in 1956, it was renamed August First Film Studio), which premiered in 1956 as On the Road through Tibet (original title: Cesta vede do Tibetu) and obtained an award at the Venice festival. The film captured the construction of a strategic military road from Ya-an to Lhasa, which was mainly built by Chinese soldiers and workers but also Tibetans. Vanis and Sis also published books with a number of photographs and they made TV coverages. Due to the dispute between Beijing and Moscow in 1959, this topic became a taboo in Czechoslovakia until the fall of communism in 1989. Besides these official published outcomes of their documentary work in Tibet and China their family archives contain unpublished private travelogues, correspondence and many photographic negatives and positives. Using both these information sources, but primarily thanks to the not yet known literary and photographic records, the large and deep background of their expedition may be examined for the very first time.

All of the above has given me the inspiration to work on Mandala #62 using every single one of my FaberCastell Polychromos pencils, all thirty-eight of them, some of which colors I don't like very well but which seem likable when used in the context of the ones I favor and use frequently.  This year I'm alternating drawing my mandalas with my right hand and non-dominant left hand.  This is a left-handed one. There is a distinctly different process going on in me when I use my left hand.  Are any of you left-handed?  Or ambidextrous?


My beautiful talkative cat, Oboe, died a year ago today.  I'm grateful for her quirky and healing presence from 2006 to 2020.  Our animal friends are dear to us.

1 comment:

37paddington said...

Your dear Oboe died on the day my daughter adopted her puppy Munch. Joy and sorrow, the way life turns. Hello, hello, my friend.