Tibetan Rugs and Furniture

March 29 – May 4, 1997

The CCC is offering in its main gallery a rare exhibition of Tibetan furniture and carpets in collaboration with Tai Associates International. Tibetan furniture is a rathernew subject in this country. Most of them came directly from Tibet by way of Nepal or trading outposts like Hong Kong during the past few years. Due to the nomadic lifestyle of the Tibetans, most households possess only a limited number of furniture. Basically there are three types: chests or trunks, cabinets, and small tables. The chests are used mainly to hold family treasures and personal goods; cabinets to keep food, utensils and religious implements; and small tables to display religious objects or shrines or used as writing desks. Most furniture, however, come from monasteries and temples since they have the need andthe means to acquire furniture to store and display religious goods, ritual implements, and gifts from patrons.

Tibet art is mostly associated with Buddhism. The term “Tibetan art” applies not only to works created by Tibetan artists, but also by artists in China, Nepal and India working in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Chinese painters and artists were invited to work in the construction of monasteries particularly in eastern Tibet. These artists came from the Chinese province of Sichuan and brought with them their Chinese pictorial style. The extensive use of popular Chinese motifs, both religious and secular, is evident throughout the show. For example, geometric patterns of interlocking floral and clouds were used as independent decorative schemes, or used as background to frame a featured centerpiece such as a dragon. The long snorted dragons resembled those seen in early Chinese dynasties like Song and Yuan. Front panels on cabinets are divided into smaller sections by using strips carved or painted to look like bamboo in Chinese furniture. Due to the lack of written documents, the somewhat limited range of iconography and the uniformity of design elements in Tibetan furniture and rugs, it is difficult to identify the history of the individual pieces, and the time and place where they were made.

Rugs and carpets are basic necessities in the Tibetan daily life. The high quality hand spun, vegetable dyed look, and the primitive but highly stylized patterns greatly appealed to westerners. Typically made for use as mats to sit on or for meditation, door and window covers, horse saddles, bed covers and pillar wrapping, the traditional Tibetan weaving generally reflect traditional Tibetan culture and religion. However, Chinese designs were also dominant as seen in the display of dragons, phoenix, clouds, floral and lotus images.

Funding for this exhibition has been provided in part by Grants for the Arts of the San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund and the National Endowment for the Arts. The Chinese Culture Center is grateful to Tai Associates International for lending the objects to the exhibition.