The idea of making a contemporary version of a Thangka painting came when we were visiting Swayambhunath, the Monkey Temple, in Kathmandu. We came across a beautiful old plant-based Thangka, which was really charming, but the plants were quite difficult to identify. We loved the idea of being able to help people identify some of these important native plants in Nepal, and some of which are sadly increasingly threatened.
Some of these plants are invasive, some are very familiar and used widely in connection with religious observance, and other cultural uses. These are often plants which have economic value to the Nepalese people. This includes the Himalayan nettle, which produces fibre for clothing, the daphne from which lokta paper is produced, and the Tiger grass which is made into brooms, to name but a few. The medicinal collection is the largest group depicted, including the Rhododendron arboreum; commonly known as Lali Gurans, or ‘The red one’.
The intension was to make really stylised pictures of the plants, but it was irresistible not to include lots of detail – after all the purpose was for the Nepalese to be able to identify the plants in their own country. To help with this we have included the local names in Nepali script, as well as the scientific names.
I love the concept of pictures ‘teaching’ and informing about plants, and for this piece of art to be able to communicate with everyday people in Nepal- it’s great.
It is with thanks to the Friends of the RBGE who supported this project that we are able to share this piece of art and produce the A2 prints and A5 postcards. These are on sale at the Exhibition, but will also be heading out to Nepal for classrooms, colleges and universities as well as public buildings where people might gather.
Sharon Tingey and I painted the Thangka, using drawings by Claire Banks, Isik Guner, Sarah Roberts, Lyn Campbell and Neera Pradhan – the other artists who visited Nepal with us in March 2015. The Thangka, and our other drawings, are part of the Flora of Nepal exhibition until 13th November, and then will be presented to RBGE as part of the growing archive of historic and contemporary botanical art.
You can find out more in our video of the making of the thangka.