Photo Mandalas

Mandala 464, negative 2007;
print 2008, Bill Armstrong,
Chromogenic print, from the series
"Infinity", courtesy of ClampArt

An aid to focus and meditation long used in Buddhist and Hindu religious practices, a mandala (literally "circle") is a schematic depiction of the divine palace or realm of a deity. More broadly, it is a visualization of the entire cosmos. While many historic mandalas are painted or drawn, a mandala can also be represented in sculpture, architecture, textile art, or even, in the case of this exhibition, as a photograph.

Sudan, negative 2001; print 2008
Milan Fano Blatný, Gelatin silver
print, from the series "Photo-Mandala"
courtesy of the artist

Photo Mandalas, a visually bold exhibition of more than thirty photographs curated by Katherine Ware at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (September 2008 - January 2009), brought together two contemporary artists whose work has been inspired by the ancient form of the mandala. These photographic mandalas, made in color by Bill Armstrong (American, b. 1952) and in black-and-white by Milan Fano Blatný (Czech, b. 1972), are not meant specifically for sacred use, but are meant to inspire contemplation.

“The more you look at the image, the more you see,” Blatný writes about his dense, constructed images. “New worlds, new levels come up from the center of the picture and you can go deeper and deeper inside the image.”

Armstrong, by contrast, uses rings of saturated color to interpret the form: “The mandalas are meant to be meditative pieces – glimpses into a space of pure color, beyond our focus, beyond our ken. Their essential purpose is to create a sense of transcendence, of radiance, of pure joy!”

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