Today I visited yet another temple. What can I say, they are relaxing and beautiful. This temple is across the street from the main Chiang Mai University campus, so I thought it would be a nice stop after my trip to the art museum. But, the weather was perfect, the lighting excellent, and the clouds magnificent, so I turned around and made this my first stop.
I later came for learn that Wat Suan Dok means Temple of the Flowers which only made everything better as later in the afternoon I visited an orchid market.
According to legend, Maha Sumana Thera, a monk from the Sukhothai Kingdom, after having had a vision discovered a relic of the Buddha which, also according to the same vision, was to be housed in Chiang Mai. Sumana Thera stayed two rainy seasons at Wat Phra Yuen just outside Lamphun at the invitation of King Kue Na while the latter had Wat Buppharam Dok Mai built. When the moment arrived for the relic to be housed in the newly built temple, it miraculously duplicated itself. One of the relics was housed, as intended, in a shrine inside Wat Buppharam Dok Mai, while the other relic was placed on the back of a white elephant which then climbed up Doi Suthep, the mountain directly west of Chiang Mai, where it trumpeted three times and died. Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep was built on that spot to house the second relic. (ref: Wikipedia)
I don’t pretend to understand the architecture of the temples yet, the planning, the symbolism, or the significance of certain elements. This is a lesson for another day, perhaps a question to ask at my next visit to monk chat. But I do know that there is a palpable feeling of serenity at a temple (even those filled with tourists).
After the Wat, I made my way to the Chaing Mai University art museum (no fee for admission). A bit hard to identify and find from the road, but I finally made it with the help of some english speaking students I acosted in the streets. The first building I happened across was for ‘new’ media arts (or something like that). I noticed a sign advertising an every-saturday night even on the rooftop where they screen various movies from around the world “under the stars”. This immediately went on my ‘Chiang Mai ToDo List”.
The art museum is a fantastic space. And it’s a bit unfortunate that the work in there at this time didn’t reflect its potential. Big, open spaces capable of supporting many types of exhibits. High ceilings, and good natural and artificial lighting contribute to the overall potential of the space.
On the first floor there was a great deal of space dedicated to the Japanese artist Toshusai Sharaku. He had both and explosion and implosion of fame in his brief 10 month production career. During this period, from April 1794 to February 1795, he produced 140 exemplary works. (Unfortunately all of the works on display here were reproductions and many simply framed posters.)
His subject matter typically consisted of kabuki actors, sumo wrestlers, and warriors. He switched his styles often and changed his perspectives, something normally found in an atrist of a lengthy career. This stylistic mutation coupled with his skills has lead scholars to consider that “Toshusai Sharaku” might in fact have been another artist of the time working under a pseudonym….a mystery that remains unsolved today.
At the time, he was considered to be a realist to the nth degree. In fact, it is speculated, that the same precision in his work that won him early acclaim eventually became his undoing; many subjects finding his work too realistic (read: showed their warts and all).
Other sections of the museum displayed various other reproductions and sculpture. Nearly all of it stylistically Asian which I enjoyed and adds to the whole Chiang Mai / Southeast Asia experience I am here for.
In an upstairs gallery, there was a photo essay on the impact of ‘outsiders’ on the hill tribes of northern Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar. It covered a span of nearly 60 years and depicted the influences on tribal people from Missionaries, Americans, and genocidal governments, to Thai legislation and racism. This was a very interesting exhibit and one more people should see.
Finally, one exhibit really caught my attention, not for its artistic elegance, but for its fun. There were four ‘benches’ pushed together in a square, creating a well in the middle. This was the ‘post box’ in which ‘letters from around the world’ would be both mailed and delivered. Visitors were encouraged to grab a card and pencils and pens and draw something, anything. They would then put these in an envelope and drop it into the ‘mail box’. We were then encouraged to take a piece of mail as well.
I opened many and looked through the pictures drawn by people from Thailand, the Philipines, Japan, Korea, Australia, the U.S., etc. The art work ranged from cute and childish to fascinating and challenging. And I thought it a neat device to get visitors to the museum to engage in a bit of their own art.