Commissioned by The Tibet Foundation in association with the London Borough of Southwark, 1999
The Tibetan title Samten Kyil, given by HH the Dalai Lama, translates as 'Place of Contemplation'. It is a major sculpture project in a prestigious location outside the Imperial War Museum in Central London and was opened by HH the Dalai Lama on the 13th May 1999.
Commissioned by the London based Tibet Foundation, the brief was to design a monument that would symbolize the meeting of East and West by bringing together contemporary western and traditional Tibetan imagery. The circular design, based on a fundamental Buddhist image, the Wheel of Dharma, was conceived as a framework in which these two different images could co-exist in visual harmony.
At the centre of the circle, set into black Kilkenny limestone, rests a bronze cast of the Kalachakra Mandala specially designed by Tibetan monks in India and then carved in plaster in the artist’s studio. On the outer perimeter of the circle stand the four contemporary sculptures carved in Portland stone, portraying the elements, thus reflecting the four ‘gateways’ into the Mandala - Air in the west, Fire in the north, Earth in the east and Water in the south. The blue stone disk at the entrance represents the fifth element Space. These five elements are held in Buddhism to constitute the basis of our whole existence: environment, life and consciousness.
On the pathway into the arena is the Language Pillar on which is carved in English, Tibetan, Chinese and Hindi, a message for the Millennium by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The design is based on the historic Shol Pillar, installed circa 764 CE in an area below the Potala Palace, in Lhasa, during the reign of King Trisong Detsen which (among other things) detailed the situation between the two separate countries of Tibet and China.
The collaborative part of this project was crucial in its development and success. My initial sculptural concept was refined and developed through extensive consultation with London architect Guy Stansfeld with guidance given by Lama Duboom Tulku of Tibet House, New Delhi and the Tibet Foundation’s Director, Phuntsog Wangyal. The Kalachakra Mandala design was developed by monks from the Gyurme Tantric Monastery in Hunsur, South India then carved in plaster (in my South London studio) before being cast in bronze at the Nautilus Foundry, Essex.
An incredible team of workers - sculptor, architect, carvers, letter designer/cutters, masons, contractors and Southwark Council Parks Department worked onsite over a 12 month period to bring the project to completion.
The site team: Carvers - Jason Mulligan, Alyosha Moeran, Lucy Churchill, Keb Garavito; Letter Designer - Sally Bower; Letter cutting - Mark Frith, John Das Gupta
Mandala Team - Tim Metcalfe, Awang Dorjee, Iassen Dimitrov
Contractor - Roger Davis with stone masons Kevin Turner and Rob Hall
the gateway - air