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Fabric of Life – Textile Arts in Bhutan
Bhutan, wedged between its two powerful neighbours China and India, is the last remaining Buddhist Himalayan Kingdom and the only country in the world where the Tantric form of Mahayana Buddhism, the Vajrayana, constitutes the official state religion and infuses all aspects of life, from state policy to the everyday lives of its inhabitants. Due to its remote mountainous location with its natural borders, a deliberate external policy and the basic principles of Buddhist ethics, it was left undisturbed for a very long time, and has been able to preserve a remarkable textile art, which illustrates how closely art, spirituality, and life are interwoven, like warp and weft.
However, Bhutan is not a ’Living Eden’ or ’Shangri-La’, as many claim. Through the medium of textiles, Karin Altmann provides clear insights into Bhutan’s culture, society, tradition and transformation, which are, in turn, associated with a variety of historical, philosophical, religious, social and artistic perspectives. Bhutanese textiles reflect the complementary but separate worlds of women and men, and provide a dimension to the Bhutanese concept of gender, and finally, they tell the story of a country that is seeking to establish a sensitive balance between tradition and progress in a globalized world.
Karin Altmann, Mag.art. Dr.phil., is an Austrian artist and Senior lecturer at the department of Textile Arts at the University of Applied Arts Vienna. Her research interests are the exploration and development of the textile element as a specific mediality, with regard to its appearance and significance in art and culture. Theory and practice always relate to, extend and deepen each other. She is well known for researching the interconnection between art and spirituality, pursued in her thesis on ’Kyrgyz Felt Art in the Context of Nomadism and Shamanism’, and her 2015 published book, entitled ’Fabric of Life – Textile Arts in Bhutan’.