Columbia College Chicago

Pearl of the Snowlands: Buddhist Printing at the Derge Parkhang

Exhibition dates: September 11 to December 5, 2009
Opening reception: Sept. 11  5-8pm

Purchase the exhibition catalog.

Founded in 1729, the Derge Parkhang (also called the Derge Sutra Printing Temple) is a world cultural treasure, a repository of the cultural memory, literature and art of the Tibetan people. The Parkhang stores over 300,000 woodblocks that are used to publish sutra (holy scripture), commentaries, and histories of Tibetan Traditional Buddhism. It is a living institution, one of the most important religious sites in Tibet and a destination for both pilgrims and increasingly for tourists. It is the only surviving traditional printing temple in Tibet.

At the Derge Parkhang, books are still being made in the same way as they have been for nearly 300 years: hand printed from hand-carved wooden blocks, with ink and paper locally manufactured in a centuries-old tradition. As the exhibition and the accompanying catalog will show, the Derge Parkhang is an institution supported by a community of skilled artisans practicing crafts that not long ago were under threat of disappearing. The government of China, once hostile to all forms of religion, has in recent decades relaxed its restrictions and today printing at the temple flourishes.

This exhibition, officially sanctioned by the Derge Parkhang, consists of artifacts, photographs, and interviews collected in Derge: 60 24 by 30 inch wood block printed thangka (meditational image), specimen copies of typical books (also printed from wood blocks), actual wood blocks used in the production of prayer flags, photographs documenting the processes used in creating these artifacts, and videotape of the workers producing books and prints. The exhibition presents this material in a setting reminiscent of the interior of the temple.

Related Panel Discussion
History, Printing and People: The Derge Parkhang and Tibetan Cultural Revival
November 21,  3:30 pm
Panelists: Patrick Dowdey, Wesleyan University; Clifton Meador, Columbia College; Yudru Tsomo, Lawrence University; James Canary, Indiana University