. . . 

Horticulture Week

August 22nd 2002


9. Gateway.jpg

City Serenity in Gardens of Remembrance


The Tibetan Peace Garden on the other hand, managed to combine both western design and a feel for traditional Tibetan Buddhist culture.

Commissioned by the Tibet Foundation and unveiled by the Dalai Lama two years ago in the grounds of the Imperial War Museum, the circular garden symbolises the need to create understanding and harmony between Eastern and Western cultures. Featuring a central bronze mandala surrounded by eight meditation seats representing the noble eightfold path of Buddhism (right view, thought, speech, livelihood, effort, mindfulness and concentration), and four Portland stone sculptures representing earth, fire, air and water, the garden is packed with significance. Even the plants that create a subdued blue and white scheme when in flower, are all originally from the Himalayas.

“It is contemporary and cutting edge, but also very popular. It also reflects very much what it is commemorating, which is peace and harmony. And this along with the high quality of products and design that have gone into it has made the garden very successful,” said Landscape Institute Director of Communications, Eleanor Silk.

The garden’s London-based landscape designer and sculptor Hamish Horsley, puts down its success more to the harmonious mix of hard and soft landscaping. This meant a quite subdued plant colour scheming to blend in with the Kilkenny and Yorkshire stones we used.

“I would have liked to use water, which helps with the atmosphere, but this was too problematic in terms of long-term maintenance.”

But alternatives to traditional sculptures on a plinth, like the Tibetan Peace Garden, the September 11 garden and the Princess Diana water feature, are set to become the norm for commemorating the dead in the future.

“Gardens are popular because they are interactive. You can sit under a sculpture and look at it, but that is all. Traditionally, people have always been remembered by flowers and foliage,” said Royal Parks Deputy Chief Executive, Mike Fitt.


Landscape London

By Charlotte Hare
Published 2001

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The Tibetan Peace Garden, Samten Kyil

The Tibetan name ‘Samten Kyil’ means place (or garden) of contemplation. The garden is a gift from the Tibet Foundation to the people of Britain, symbolising the meeting of East and West, and representing a marriage of contemporary Western and traditional Tibetan imagery. The Tibet Foundation hopes that it will serve to create a greater awareness of Buddhist culture. After an initial inquiry by Hamish Horsley, Southwark Council offered a site close to the Imperial War museum. It’s an apt location, albeit rather noisy, and is rather more high profile than expected.

The circular design is based on the Buddhist image of the Dharma Wheel. At the centre of the circle, set in black Kilkenny limestone, rests a bronze cast of the Kalachakra Mandala (wheel of time) designed by Tibetan monks in India and later carved in plaster in the artist’s studio [in Sth London] by Tim Metcalf, Awang Dorjee and Issen Dimitrov. At gateways on the outer perimeter of the circle positioned at the compass points stand four stylised abstractions carved in Portland stone. These portray the elements: air (west gateway), fire (north), earth (east), and water (south). The open arena represents the fifth element, space. The five elements are held in Buddhism to constitute the basis of our whole existence: environment, life, and consciousness. Outside the arena is the Language Pillar on which a message for the millennium by His Holiness the Dalai Lama is carved in English, Tibetan, Chinese and Hindi.

Set into the paving around the mandala are the ‘Eight Auspicious symbols’ cast in bronze. Eight York stone meditation seats surround the central mandala, with herbs and plants from the Tibatan and Himalayan regions planted behind. White roses and the stems of white Himalayan birch (Betula jacquemontii) combined with the whiteness of the stone have further peace connotations. The layout of the paving and a finely detailed oak and steel pergola give the garden a sense of unity and a contemporary edge. 

The garden is beautifully designed and executed. It is self-contained but will become more integrated with its surroundings once trees mature. Most important of all, it’s a monument to the courage and resilience of the Tibetan people


Natural Stone Specialist

November 2003



Art in Stone

Renewed interest in carving and sculpture, plus a favourable economic climate, mean that many artists are enjoying a happy level of commissions and plenty of opportunity to exhibit their work. Claire Santry takes a look at some recent work by artists who specialise in stone.

Since completing his award winning Tibetan Peace Garden in London, Hamish Horsley has been working on another public art project, this time in Southampton. It is in the Pavilions, a new housing development, and was commissioned by Bryant Homes in association with Southampton Council’s public art office under the Percent for Art scheme.

“They wanted a central piece for a new square and they wanted it to occupy the whole space” says Hamish. “I came up with something that people could walk through and be involved in directly. It is also surrounded by rather tall houses from which you get a completely different view to that at ground level”.

The three 2m high central pillars are [carved] in New Independent Whitbed by Albion Stone Quarries. These are surrounded by shapes [carved] in Purbeck Cap which were quarried and cut by Haysom Quarries while the Yorkstone steps and pool are cut from Dunhouse Buff sandstone. The work, called Plateau, is completed with river stones and planting.


View Magazine

Issue 8 1997

The Sculptures of Hamish Horsley

“If many people are very critical of art in public places,” says Horsley, “this is because it often does nothing to address what I think is fundamental: harmony in the environment. Public art should create a focus which allows people to relate at a human level to balance and harmony.”

His work called The Way serves as a gateway to Durham Cathedral, in northern England. It does not compete with the cathedral as a second focus; rather it pays homage to the magnificence of the medieval masterpiece.

Hamish Horsley was born in New Zealand, spent several years of his youth in India as a Hindu monk, and has lived in England for the past twenty years where he has a growing reputation as a photographer and sculptor. As a sculptor, he specialises in large works in public places.

He is now a follower of Buddhism, but makes no obvious reference to Buddhist iconography in his art. “How can I imitate a carver of ‘Mani’ stones? All my training, all my artistic references are Western. If I try to imitate, I could finish up creating visual clichés. My beliefs and my art are separate, but totally interwoven.”

Horsley believes that to be successful, public sculptures must have a spiritual input. “I don’t mean spiritual as religious. I mean they must have a sense of spirit, a sense of place. I prefer to use natural imagery and forms, and relate them back into the landscape.”

Horsley is currently working on Samten Kyil, Tibetan for ‘A Garden of Contemplation’. It is situated in the grounds of London’s Imperial war Museum, which shows not the glories of imperial conquest but the horrors of all war. A project of the Tibet Foundation, the Garden is dedicated to world peace and in particular to the message of the Dalai Lama and the sufferings of the Tibetan people.

The sacred heart of the Garden is an authentic Tibetan Kalachakra mandala, designed by monks of the Gyume Tantric College in India and set in black Kilkenny stone. This traditional piece is set among four great panels of contemporary sculptures depicting the four elements (earth, water, air and fire) and surrounded by a pergola of stainless steel and wood.

In this case the project did not begin with a beautiful landscape, but with an ordinary, inner city landscape in which an inspiring space will be created. The aim is an environment which will have an impact; simply walking into the arena described by the pergola will produce an experience for everyone. The beautiful park around it will invite visitors to look again at the richness of the planet we are destroying.

“This is a monument of the time, a monument for the end of the century. It is possible to be consciously contemporary and yet in harmony with the environment around us.”

The NZ Listener

July 29 1995

Near to Heaven
By David Young

Few Westerners have got as close to the Dalai Lama as New Zealand sculptor and photographer Hamish Horsley. Horsley, who has acted as an imposing but genial bodyguard for the Tibetan leader during several of his recent British tours, has also measured His Holiness’s head with callipers during a sitting for a portrait sculpture.

“It was six in the morning. He was quite withdrawn,” says Horsley. “But he giggled when I measured his nose. It felt quite strange to be that close. He seemed so vulnerable and I got a sense of the emotional burden he must carry.”

The exiled spiritual and temporal leader of Tibet has been based at the edge of the Himalayas at Dharamsala, India, for decades. Six million Tibetans remain in Tibet, which China has ruthlessly controlled since 1959, and some seven million Chinese colonials now also live there.

Horsley, 44, has been based in London for much of the last 20 years, but over the last eight years he has developed a deepening relationship with Tibet and the Tibetans. He has gone regularly to the Himalayas and often deep into Tibet.

As we fly from Delhi across the rumpled mountain wedge between Afghanistan and old Tibet, heading for the ancient kingdom of Lhadak, in northern-most India, the endless ridges, peaks, glaciers and valleys excite and unsettle Horsley. He identifies several distinctive mountains, including the mystical Mt Kailash on the far-off horizon. “I’m hoping to get back there soon,” he says. 

Horsley’s relationship with this landscape and its hardy, bright-eyed people really began in the early 1970’s, when, for two years, he was a novice monk in an ashram in Rishikesh, besides the Ganges in the Himalayan foothills.

But not until he graduated in sculpture from the Royal College of Art in 1986 did he begin to see the potential it held for him in developing his work. “I had been working essentially with the landscape, experimental earthworks and stone placements. I wanted to explore the idea of objects having a sense of place in relation to wilderness and was a bit unsure of where to go. My professor [sculptor Philip King] suggested I take a wander there.”

That “wander” has never ceased. It has taken him to the heart of nomadic Mongolia in mid-winter, through Turkistan along the silk road, to much of Tibet and now, Lhadak. 

Until 20 years ago Lhadak was an isolated kingdom closed to outsiders by the Indian Government. Today it is a remnant of a world that has almost gone, a place where, despite the effects of the quite recent connecting road and flickering Hindi television, Tibetan culture still exists, little changed over a thousand years.

The central town, Leh, sits in a valley cut by the Indus at 3700m. In winter, night temperatures 

of -30C rime outer walls; by day, blistering sunshine burns the skin. So barren and formidable is the landscape that human occupation of it seems perplexing and mysterious. Yet the stone monasteries are there, soaring high on usually sheer ridges, seemingly integral to the mountain. It is as if the Tibetan Buddhists set the foundations of their monasteries as near to heaven as possible.

“There is a very curious link between the people and the land that I can’t get away from,” Horsley says. “The beauty of the landscape can be quite overwhelming, but the Tibetans, often very poor and living with considerable hardship, exist easily within it. They never seem awestruck. It is their home, their spiritual home.

“At first I’d intended going to some sort of remote areas where human input is so minimal, just to travel through it, really, in search of ideas and images, which I could then work up into drawings.

“Yet, even in the wildest parts of western Tibet, when you get there, there is this unfathomable relationship. There is such a strong sense of… [he takes an unusual pause]…just space. And that culture – powerful, bizarre almost, a refined metaphysical and deeply compassionate faith coming out of such a barren, hard country.”

So he began to take pictures. “The photographs were to capture the landscape – as a way of me recording it – but it soon became more than that. Photography became an integral part of my work. It is a profoundly beautiful landscape and, for me, very seductive. The influence it has had on me and my work is immense.

“Curiously, people in the West think of Tibet as a small mountain kingdom, with a God King and covered in snow. But it’s vast, as big as Europe, and most of the country has very little snow – it’s too dry. There are also grasslands that seem to stretch for ever, with great herds of Yak – and wild flowers, and, in the east, dense forests of juniper [now being massively deforested by the Chinese].

“And mixed in with all that are these extraordinary places, great monasteries and places of insight and learning, though tragically, most are now in ruins.”

Horsley’s first visit to Tibet was in 1987; he reached the Chinese-Tibetan border just as the [October 87] Tibetan uprising occurred. “For a while [my visit] looked a bit impossible, as the Chinese weren’t letting anyone through. But I did manage to get to Lhasa eventually and spend some time there. What I encountered was shattering - an invading army brutally at war with people in their own country. It was sticks and stones against machine guns. The courage and faith of those Tibetans was something I can never forget.”

Back in London, he made contact with the Tibet Foundation, an organisation run by Tibetan exiles to promote their culture. The Dalai Lama was about to visit the UK and they needed help with security. “I volunteered without realising it would lead to so many other things, such as the portrait bust, and, in time, an immense amount of photographic work.”

Although Horsley is not a committed Buddhist, his early days at Rishikesh and his continuing days at the Tibet Foundation have made him knowledgeable about Eastern Philosophy. “I have a huge respect for Tibetan Buddhism and I’m moving closer and closer to it – a lot of their rituals and customs aren’t foreign to me anymore.”

In the foothills of the Himalayas we visit the monasteries of Thuksi, Hemis and Spituk .

At Spituk, overlooking the Indus River and the Indian military bases that provide the yang to the monasteries’ yin in Lhadak, Horsley spends most of the day photographing an annual festival performed by masked and costumed monks.

At Hemis Monastery, at an altitude of about 4000m, most of the inhabitants have gone for the winter. The drumming accompaniment and murmured chant of a solitary monk in the dark recesses of the 350-year-old temple float out into the courtyard. Inside, there are butter lamps and burning candles that light up walls of painting, Tibetan manuscripts, Buddha figures and, incongruously, a Nescafe tin.

These monasteries, tucked deep into the valleys around Lhadak, represent a vital link with the past, more critical as Tibet is purged of its spiritual leaders and practises.

Horsley’s relationship with the Tibetans, their religion and their political cause, serves them well. Tibet, a Living Culture, a large exhibition that he has curated for the Tibet Foundation, features many of his own photographs. Shown in London, Dublin, Barcelona and Helsinki, it brought home to a large audience the plight of the Tibetans, and the richness of their culture.

“The Foundation aims to raise awareness and to find ways of getting aid to Tibetans inside Tibet,” says Horsley. “Their situation is appalling. Chinese persecution and immigration as worse than ever. Young Tibetans, often barely in their teens, are seeking exile in ever greater numbers. They are swamping the reception camps in Nepal and India and straining to breaking point the resources of the Tibetan-run schools that must provide for them.

“The cruel irony is that Western governments do know of the Tibetans’ plight and their right to self-determination, but are too concerned with Chinese trade to make an issue of it.”


By David Young


Although primarily a sculptor, Hamish Horsley has for the past 10 years regularly roamed the Himalayas with a camera, drawing on that vast and elemental landscape for artistic inspiration.

In the course of his travels, he has come to a close understanding of Tibetan Buddhism and culture – both inside Tibet, which culturally is a shadow of its former self, and outside. “Where in 1960 there were 6000 Tibetan monasteries, today only 10 exist,” he says. The rest have been systematically destroyed by the Chinese invaders.

Horsley’s 59 photographs [on show at Wanganui’s Sarjeant Gallery] depict the grandeur of the Tibetan land and the Tibetans relationship to it. Virtually the only intact parts of Tibet are in the communities and monasteries set up in exile, many in northern and southern India, so his work also reflects these. Images of Tibetan Buddhism found in Mongolia provide another intriguing focus for the exhibition.

The photographs clearly exist as art in their own right. But also shown are selected miniature bronzes [sculptures] of fire, air, earth and water that will form a part of one of his great works, a garden of peace beside the Imperial War Museum, for the Tibet foundation.