Shambhala is a Sanskrit word describing a mythical land whose exact location is hidden behind mist of snow-capped mountains, where peace reigns, wealth abounds, and there is no illness. The West was first introduced to the concept as “Shangri-la” in the 1930s book and film Lost Horizon, but Shambhala, in both physical and spiritual senses, has been part of Tibetan Buddhist art and culture for centuries. “Seeking Shambhala” explores this spiritual realm within the Tibetan tradition, and brings to the fore two contemporary artists’ personal journeys to Shambhala.
In 1906, the Museum acquired a set of 17th-century Tibetan paintings depicting the mythical Shambhala kings and the Buddha. Tibetan Buddhist scriptures state that there have been and will be 32 kings (we are currently in the reign of the 28th) and that the last will usher in an age of enlightenment.
The paintings have been recently conserved and restored back into traditional thangka (hanging scroll) mounts. “Seeking Shambhala” presents these 23 paintings along with Buddhist ritual implements, sculpture, and other objects, putting these colorful, complex images in context.
Also on view are works by Japanese graphic artist Tadanori Yokoo, including his SHAMBALA series of prints produced in 1974. The contemporary Tibetan artist Gonkar Gyatso, whose collage titled The Shambala in Modern Times was shown at the 53rd Venice Biennale, is also represented.