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Le Quoc Viet's
Secret Mantra

October 14 - December 6, 2014

secret mantra image


In the latter half of the 20th century, archeologists unearthed a series of eight-sided stone pillars dating back to 973 CE in the ancient Vietnamese capital Hoa Lu in modern-day Ninh Binh Province. Text inscribed on the pillars indicated that Prince Dinh Khuong Lien had ordered the construction of 100 pillars to be placed at 100 road intersections to atone for the killing of his younger brother. The pillars featured mantra scripts carved in Han Chinese characters common at the time. Passersby could chant the mantras as a form of prayer to honor the dead. In the Vajirayana Buddhist tradition, mantras are sacred syllables or phrases that can bring happiness, transform souls, or eliminate sin.

Le Quoc Viet (b. 1972) is a member of the avant-garde Zenei Gang of Five, a group of young calligraphers “steeped in Vietnamese intellectual and written traditions that have long been ignored,” according to Ian Findley, the editor and publisher of Asian Art News. Findley writes, “[These artists] are now resurrecting and rejuvenating the artistic potential of Han Chinese characters and Vietnam’s ancient Nom script in the service of their contemporary culture.” Secret Mantra is an installation of colorful silk lanterns inspired by the Dinh Dynasty pillars and lost Han-Nom cultural traditions.  Ranging from ten to fourteen feet in height, the lanterns are illuminated from within and sway gently as visitors move through the gallery.

Special thanks to the Indochina Arts Project, Aaron Thomas, and members of the Class of 1999 for bringing the artist to campus. The gallery also thanks Jeff Reeder, technical director for theater and dance, SUNY Potsdam, for assistance with lighting for this exhibition.

A video presenting information about Secret Mantra is available.