Much as the headwaters of Asia’s major rivers form in the Tibetan plateau and flow into the world’s seas, interest in Tibetan art and culture has circulated globally, inspiring artists within Tibetan regions and throughout the world. Across Shared Waters: Contemporary Artists in Dialogue with Tibetan Art from the Jack Shear Collection presents works by contemporary artists of Himalayan heritage alongside traditional Tibetan Buddhist rolled paintings, or thangka, from the Jack Shear Collection, a juxtaposition that highlights the richness and diversity of Tibetan artistic expression and fosters greater understanding and appreciation of Himalayan histories and identities.
Created between the 18th and 20th centuries, the thangka feature elaborate depictions of Buddhist narratives, deities, and practices. Talented, highly trained artists produced engaging scenes detailing the lives of the Buddha, chronicled incarnation lineages, and transmitted teaching stories. Some works would be used by initiates to support advanced meditation techniques while others depict deities who aid Buddhist practitioners with everyday concerns, granting blessings of wealth, long life, protection, or healing.
The traditional thangka are displayed in conversation with contemporary works by featured artists based around the world, including Marie-Dolma Chophel, Dedron, Nyema Droma, Gonkar Gyatso, Tenzin Norbu Lama, Kesang Lamdark, Tashi Norbu, Karma Phuntsok, Pema Rinzin, Rabkar Wangchuk, and Palden Weinreb. While some draw inspiration from Tibetan cultural markers, including repurposing or reimagining Buddhist imagery, others source inspiration completely outside those frames. Exploring themes of identity, consumerism, place, and cultural expectations, the artists employ a diverse range of media, from ground mineral pigments to acrylic paint, digital photography, mixed media works, and resin cast sculptures.
The traditional works in Across Shared Waters are part of a generous gift made by Jack Shear to be shared among the art museums of Williams, Skidmore, and Vassar Colleges and used for education, research, and informed display. The WCMA exhibition is the second in a series associated with the Jack Shear Collection of Himalayan Art. This exhibition also has been made possible through generous loans from artists, The Shelley and Donald Rubin Private Collection, the Pitt Rivers Museum, the Michael C. Carlos Museum, and Faith Stone.
Organized by guest curator Ariana Maki, the Associate Director of the University of Virginia Tibet Center and Bhutan Initiative, with Elizabeth Gallerani, Curator of Mellon Academic Programs, and Nicholas Liou, Mellon Curatorial Fellow and MA ’24, along with research support from Curatorial Intern Priya Rajbhandary ’25. Tibetan translation provided by Rongwo Lugyal.