IEAS Exhibit Series — Arts of Asia

Tibet in the 1930s: Photographs from the Theos Bernard Archive

Photographs from the Theos Bernard Archive image

April 24 – July 24, 2014
Monday through Friday, 9 am – 5 pm
IEAS Lobby, 2223 Fulton Street, 6th Floor

A selection of photographs that survive from the 1937 sojourn of American Theos Bernard capture images of a Tibet steeped in Buddhist tradition and feudal custom. Photographs include images of the monasteries, monks, and rituals of Tibetan Buddhism, as well as life in the villages and countrysides. The photographs, now in the collections of the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology at UC Berkeley, reveal the rich and diverse society of Tibet in its last years of independence.

The photographs in this exhibition offer a rich and diverse portrait of Tibetan society and religion. Prior to first contacts with Buddhist traditions Tibetans had developed an array of religious customs and myths concerning cults of local deities and funerary rites. Beginning in the late seventh century the rulers of the Tibetan Empire invited Buddhist masters from around Asia to introduce Buddhist beliefs and rituals into the court culture and help translate the scriptures into the newly created Tibetan literary language. This direct engagement with representatives of Buddhism continued for several centuries after the fall of the Tibetan Empire in the mid-ninth century. In the wake of the empireís demise many Buddhist monasteries gained positions of social and political status in Tibetan society. Close relations developed between the Tibetan clans and new monastic traditions, thereby giving rise to many religious polities that came to rule much of the Tibetan plateau. Tibetans also innovated many vernacular forms of Buddhism during this time which came to characterize Tibetan Buddhism ever after.

Tibetan Buddhism maintains a wider spectrum of Indian Buddhism than other national Buddhist traditions and is also profoundly imprinted by native Tibetan culture. It has multiple centers of power spread over many thousands of miles, yet is also relatively unified in appearance and ethos. Buddhist institutions in Tibet range from remote hermitages, modest village temples, impressive seminaries, monasteries with upwards of a thousands monks, and even to mobile tent temples that serve the pastoralist communities. Much Tibetan Buddhist activity takes place outside of temples, at holy mountains and lakes, village shrines, and household altars. Theos Bernardís photos capture a number of different religious specialists, such as reincarnate lamas, learned monks, barefoot priests, and pilgrims. The main religious values in Tibetan Buddhism are compassion, generosity, faith in the lamas and gods of oneís locale, and the purification of ethical transgressions and social pollution. These are enacted through the recitation of mantras and prayers, religious giving, receiving blessings from lamas and consecrated substances, and pilgrimage to holy sites. In addition to these universal practices of Tibetan Buddhists, the religion is also well-known for having highly developed forms of scholasticism and contemplation.
            Jann Ronis
            East Asian Languages and Cultures and Religious Studies, UC Berkeley


Tibet in the 1930s: The Emergence of Buddhist Modernism
Jann M. Ronis, Lecturer, East Asian Languages and Cultures and Religious Studies, UC Berkeley
May 8, 2014, 4:00 pm
Location: IEAS Conference Room — 2223 Fulton, 6th Floor

This talk will recount Theos Bernardís travels and studies in the 1930s in Tibetan regions, with an eye towards developments in religion, literature, and politics taking place at the time. In addition to narrating Bernardís daring voyages and meetings with remarkable Tibetans, attention will also be devoted to important figures in the rise of new forms of culture and society. Gendun Chopel (1903-1951) is considered the father of modern Tibetan literature and religious sensibilities and was a close associate of Theos Bernardís. Notable examples of his modernist poetry and artwork will be considered. Furthermore, this lecture will follow the evolution of Buddhist modernism into the twenty-first century through a first-hand survey of progressive Tibetan thinkers and institutions in present-day Chinese-controlled Tibet.

In Search of the Divine
Julia M. White, Senior Curator for Asian Art, UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive
June 26, 2014, 4:00 pm
Location: IEAS Conference Room — 2223 Fulton, 6th Floor

In conjunction with the exhibition "Tibet in the 1930s: Photographs from the Theos Bernard Archive," currently on view at the Institute of East Asian Studies, BAMPFA Curator Julia White will speak about Bernard's quest in the context of American Orientalism and fascination with Tibet, and what Bernard encountered during his sojourn.

Event Contact:, 510‑642‑2809

Photographs from the Theos Bernard Archive

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