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Quick Hits: Gonkar Gyatso’s ‘Buddha’s Picnic’ The interactive exhibit will be on display in Staniar Gallery through March 17.

“’Buddha’s Picnic’ is a visually stunning, immersive installation that…invites people to sit, quite literally, and ponder the contradictory meanings of this shrine-like creation and its fabulous mash-up of imagery.”

When visitors walk into Washington and Lee University’s Staniar Gallery, they may feel as though they have been transported to a picnic in the Tibetan countryside. Artist Gonkar Gyatso’s exhibit “Buddha’s Picnic,” which will be on display through March 17, is an interactive installation that features a modern Tibetan shrine and an actual picnic, replete with snacks and a comfortable place to enjoy them.

Watch the video below to get a glimpse into “Buddha’s Picnic.”

Still photo courtesy of Jake Sirota ’19

Gyatso is best known for his work mixing Buddhist iconography with pop imagery to examine the complexities inherent in defining identity when different cultures simultaneously coexist and conflict. He has recently completed installations in Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong, as well as in the United States at galleries in Boulder and Atlanta. “Buddha’s Picnic” will be his first installation in the region.

“This exhibition activates the gallery space in exciting new ways,” said Clover Archer, director of the Staniar Gallery.

Melissa Kerin, associate professor of art history at W&L, worked with Gyatso and Archer on this project over the past two years. She explained that “Buddha’s Picnic” is “a visually stunning, immersive installation that subversively combines playful, seemingly innocent plastic figurines of Tibetan monks and My Little Pony with sobering posters of political figures from the People’s Republic of China and advertisements for beauty products. This body of work invites people to sit, quite literally, and ponder the contradictory meanings of this shrine-like creation and its fabulous mash-up of imagery.”

The idea for the installation grew out of conversations between Gyatso and Kerin, who were introduced in 2015 by W&L alumna Victoria Andrews ’15. While discussing their shared interest in shrines—Kerin’s academic and Gyatso’s artistic—they decided to explore the idea of creating a multidisciplinary shrine-focused project. The two have given talks on campus, at the Smithsonian’s Freer/Sackler Galleries and New York’s Asia Society about this work and the powerful role of shrines.

“Buddha’s Picnic” was funded by a $10,000 grant from the Robert Lehman Foundation, as well as funding from the Office of the Provost at W&L, which allowed Staniar Gallery and the Art and Art History Department to expand the scope of the project. Consequently, Gyatso was brought to campus from Chengdu, China to create this site-specific installation with W&L students.

“The additional funding allowed us to support Gyatso in realizing an ambitious new project, one that would not have been possible otherwise,” said Archer.

This was Washington and Lee’s first grant from the Robert Lehman Foundation. Based in New York, the foundation’s mission is to “fulfill and further [founder] Robert Lehman’s vision and therefore to support the visual arts in any fashion that seems likely to enhance the appreciation, knowledge and enjoyment of this central aspect of our culture.” Grants are made to museums, arts organizations, educational institutions and other cultural organizations with the goal of enhancing the role of the visual arts within American and world culture.

Staniar Gallery is located on the second floor of Wilson Hall, in Washington and Lee University’s Lenfest Center for the Arts. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, please call (540)-458-8861.