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F I E , L D O F C OL O R T ANTR A

DRA\T I N GS

FR OM IN D IA

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TANTRA

DRA\T IN GS The Drawing Room

FR OM IN D IA

November 6, zoo4 -January 22, 2ooj

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"Field of Color: Tantra Drawings from Indii' brings togetherover 30 beautiful works on paper by anonymousartists from the NortheasternIndian stateof Rajasthancollectedby the French poet FranckAndrd Jamme.Intended to serve as meditation aids for followersof the Tantric school of Hinduism, they are basedon illustrationsfirst known to have appearedin lTth-century religioustreatisesthat were copied generationfrom generation,the imageseventuallybecoming independentof the texts. Painted in gouache,watercolor,and temperaon paper,they reflect the highly symbolic worldview of Hindu Tantrism, using color to help the viewerachievea heightenedstateof enlightenment,the feelingof transcendencehinted at by the wordk erymology-"Tan" being a Sanskrit word for "stretch" and "Tia" being one for "beyond all boundaries."The color and intensity of the imagesconveysan attitude towardslife-the oscillationof the shapeson the pagesuggestingan ideal balancingofthe forcesand energiesin the world. One need not be an initiate to find them ravishing.

Edward HallamTuckPublication Program


SIL H O U ET TE S A N D K E Y S (FIFTYMOREOR LESS IN ANSWER TO A FE\r QUESTIONS.) TECHNICAL NOTESON TANTRICPICTURES, FranchAndri Jamme The rhought has often occurred to me that perhaps never in the universal history of painting have works ever been produced that are both so mysterious and simple and so powerful and pure-a bit as if, wirh these works, mant genius had been able to assemblealmost everything in almost nothing. I - I have always been persuaded that the eye can experience a kind ofthrill. 2 - But firsr, let us classifr things a little bit. The kinds of tantric drawings in India can be divided into three: First, rhere are those that have come under the influence of Jainism: One can recognize these right away, as they are generally printed on silk or fine cloth, and are sometimes quite large. Representing different aspecrs of Jain cosmology, they are rich and garish, covered with geometric forms, srylized figures, and writing. One finds them in southern Rajasthan and the Gujarat-and, along with some erotic paintings, in the "tantrism" section of art shops throughout the country. Next are the popular Hindu paintings. They are cruder, wilder: The designation "tantra-folk'was invented to describe them. They're generally executed on papec but really any surface that can be painted or drawn on will do-walls, floors, planks, erc. More rare, rhey can be found, with some difficulry throughout northern India and in some parts of Kerala, in the south. Finally, there are the Hindu paintings that one could describe as "the scholarly ones." Originally taken from illuminated manuscripts, they retain the small size and paper base of their forbearers. They are even more rare than the others, and have been even more thoroughly studied.' 3 - Tiadition distinguishes between the geometric and abstract pieces and the more or less "representational" ones. According to the flavors they evoke and thus are able to introduce into the spirit of the initiate, rhey are divided into three types: the "serene and sublime," the "dynamic" or "active," and the "ter-

rifring." 4 - Our first introduction to these paintings came in the form of a gallery catalogue for an exhibition staged in 1970, ac the Point Cardinal in Paris. At a bookseller's rack some years later, the names Henri Michaux and Ocawio Paz (who had offered a poem and a text to the short volume, respectively) attracted us like a magnet. 5 - As far as problems of climate and poor conservation allow us to say, these representations first appeared during the l7'h century in hand-written tantric 11sa1i5s5-1hsThntras.The oldest works we know of date from that period, although, needless to say, earlier ones may have vanished forever, laid waste by the incessant work of racs, insects, monsoons' and utter carelessness. 6 - These images were copied out in treatises, time and again throughout the ages. But they were also copied independently of the texts, on single pages, becoming pure autonomous supports for meditation used by families and groups practicing tantric ritual and carried around in the bundles of tantric sadhus.2 It is this last group that interests us. 7 - It is impossible to find one of these wonders in southern India, unless you discover it through a dealer. Everything really happens in the north: in Kashmir, in Bengal, in Rajasthan-above all, in Rajasthan. Perhapsthis is simply becausethat state remains the heart of painting for the subcontinent (it should also be added that Rajasrhan is the home of more squirrels-those little devils whose fur is used to make brushes-than anywhere else in India.) 8 - How srrange ir is to find in a land so baroque as to almost be overflowing images that are so concise as to almost be dry. 'What it recommends, absolutely, is practice-or rather, the practices: 9 - Tantrism rejects speculation. of breathing, hundalinia work, sexual union. . . and visualizations the regulation recitation of mantras,3 the (of these paintings among other things), in a kind of active meditation in which the adept will actually idendfy himself with the image under his gaze and, through it, with the deiry it represents. 10 - Extreme, rhis old and great spiritual (and initiatory) current. It holds that we are in a "Dark Age" and thar to liberate ourselves during this lifetime, to free ourselves from rhe world through dominating it, all we can do is try to know, to awaken and direct the dormant energy within us-precisely the same force that animates the world: Shakti, the Goddess. 1l - Action, direct experience in and by the world (the realiry of which is, therefore, total)-these shall from now on be the bywords.t Even if it means employing magic at times. And asceticism is banished for good.6


12 -To go as far as the undeniable odor of sulfur and heresy: As when, for example, it is strongly recommended to the initiates, whether men or women, of certain tantikasT to immerse themselvesin impuriry and social transgression in order to liberate dark forces, forbidden but terribly effective powers, so that they might liberate the adept in turn... l3 -To go so far as to cultivate the sociery of the secret,which is inherent to all initiate societies,when language used in certain rreatises is largely coded, "intentional," as the texts themselves describe itbrother of our "cabal," the ancient "language of birds" used by European alchemists at the zenith of their investigations. . . 14 -To go so far as to acquire strange powers. To hear the growing of onet hair and fingernails. To control one's dreams. To travel through them at will... l5 - Let us return to the images-even if this discussion of tantrism has been far too brief. The origins of the images have always been anonymous. Given that they are not pure creations, but a series of "revisitations" of the old schemas, one generation after the next, this tradition seems correct. Even so, they are rarely executed by amateurs who pick up a brush and powders one Sunday; not infrequently, they are produced secretly (one by one) in uaditional painting studios where the main activity remains the creation of the famous "miniatures."t 16 - Marvelously anonymous. Like an antidote. Or a balm. In this world where everything seemsmade for the swelling of the ego... 17 - And these scattered notes. The gracelesscopy of this blue piece where a hundred arrows turn and dance. l8 - Out there, those who still practice the ritual get hold of one of those paintings, and pin or paste it up at home on their altar to meditate. It fades, wrinkles, and ages-until it is replaced by another fresher one, l9 -To not mention that there are collectors of these things even in India would be to lie by omission. Moreover, a lot of what we know about tantric art comes from a collector, Ajit Mookerjee, who was also once, it should be noted, an adept. One could assert that this man's passion, in fact, "invented" the art. Just to be clear: The pieces obviously existed before. But he assembled and founded a collection. From almost nothing, from solitary, scattered bits, he amassed a veritable body of work. At times, he even went too far, presenting some pieces as older than they were, or as coming from different parts of the country. Even today, one cannot understand, essentially, why. A rare and complex man, from all evidence. 20 - Then there are the "foreigners," people like ourselveswho have been steeped since childhood in the river of this centuryt art, and to whom, at the very moment of discovery and in spite of our ignorance, these pieces seem immediately familiar. Like mothert milk. 2l - Like mere childt play. Indeed, crystal clear, like water just as it leaves its source. 22 - Like the infancy, moreover, of our own art. These pieces seem not only very present, they seernconteTnPorary. 23 -kt striking, this similarity to contemporary Western works. All one has to do is to slip into an exhibirion of tantric art and listen. Itt amusing how quickly visitors mention the names of well-known European and American painters. Either these images are ageless,or there is something in the spirit of man that is common to all, regardlessof epoch, or these paintings announced from birth what would one day appear-hence, everything was already there. 24 - Some people, speaking a litde glibly, call them "copies." I prefer "interpretations," or better yet, rules-of each of these since, after all, we are speaking about India, ragas. Even if the structure-the images is similar one to the othet their lines, coloring, and sizesdiffer subtly according to the hand that drew them, to its talent and know-how, though also to the degree of calmness and concentration and delight it felt on that particular day. 25 - If the gestures, postures, and mantras have long been codified, and with the extremiry of precision of which India is capable (seeming to have always had an unparalleled passion for detail and classification), this is not crue of the images. Their meaning, as far as we can tell, has not been stricdy fixed. Probably because the painters had long perfected the art of taking liberties with what, no doubt, was surely at one time the original canon. Moreover, we don't have systematic translations of the treatises that contained these images (in particular, we would have to know if the text was a commentary on the images, or if the images illustrated the text). All of this is, in any event, astounding. It would seem that


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not a single researcherhas seriously looked into the precise symbolism of these works. As for books on tantric art (and I'm thinking first off of those by Mookerjee and his disciples), they tend to remain sagely brief on the subject of the specific meanings of most works. One dreams of knowing more. Numerous meetings with painters, amateurs, scholars, and even some initiates have been necessaryto exrracr by cross-referencea common interpretation. But it is totally possible that we will never come acrossthe true fonts of knowledge. Vho knows? 26 -For your bundle, in any case:a Few traveling rations. Black indicates the night of the world. Blue is consciousness.The lighter, the purer. Spirals and arrows symbolize energy. Inverted triangles depict the Goddess. 27 - Ours are the footsteps of an amateur. An ardent amateur, but an amateur. Obviously, what we should do is to push on with the work, the research.To learn Sanskrit, first of all, so as to be able to read and translate the manuscripts that contain these "illustrations." Then, lett say, one ought to have experience in meditation on these pieces according to the rules and under the guidance of a master, a guru. Unfortunately, the principle of realiry has not yet put at our disposal either a single exhaustive study on these drawings or a single written testimonial concerning the inner voyages that originate in their guided, active contemplation. That will be for another life, I'm afraid. 28 - Fortunately, tradition is neither that restrictive nor that foolish. In addition to the knowledge of Sanskrit and the ritual, one must have a good eye, it says. 29 - At times, in Europe as well as in India, one is warned that these pieces are basically tools of interior development and that it would be inappropriate to expose them too much in galleries and museums, or to associatethem too explicitly with aesthetics.Though these people are not entirely mistaken, the issue is not so simple. Tiadition has always affirmed that beaury is a reflection of the divine, that an echo of the highest level of reality be made visible following the highest artistic criteria. So, as usual, no one is totally correct, as though truth, with its rwo wings, remains eternally a pure creature of flight. 30 - In any case, theret no law against finding our marvels beautiful. Even if their original purpose, or simply their purpose, is to induce and aid in meditation. Their sole function remains to open breaches in the spirit of the observer and take him to a higher plan of consciousness,eventually to enlightenment. But then what appears, ifnot another kind ofbeauty? 3 I - Perhapswe are wrong when we speak of beauty, since it seemsto us that these paintings evoke, more simply, truth. In their very abstraction they reveal themselvesas represented thoughts-srrange thoughts that choose, in place of words, to expressthemselveson form and color. 32 -ln one of his books, Ajit Mookerjee speaksof a visual metaphysics in connection with these pieces. He was a master. Even though he was a master, and onet expectations of masters are high, I believe no one will ever expressit more aptly. 33 - But, who really created these images?Itt impossible to know. And itt really not important. Thatt a lacuna merely for our modern, 'Western obsession with names and faces (and with "added value") ro regrer. 34 - While we're at it, another source of regret concerns the age of these paintings. There are those who, for mainly mercantile reasons,only want "antiques"...who would prefer this art to have been lost, just to be shared berween a few happy fans. 35 - But then let's return to our first purpose. $7e can only suppose that these beings resembled their children-their works. That they were as pure as their images in the moment of creation. 36 - Imagine: suddenly, after weeks, months, perhaps years of evoking the Goddess, her arms, her legs, her jutting tongue and terrifring gaze, all of it was precipitated-in both sensesof the word. All was feverishly resolved in a simple inverted triangle. And this triangle not only contained bur u.,asevery petal of the evocation, legs, arms, strength. Not one petal was lacking. Abstracrion. 37 - Abstraction. To abbreviate. To see it all, finally, together. 38 - Some more of our history: Even if our very first impression of these works was strong-even fatalit took adozen years and quite a fewvoyages to begin to see things a bit more clearly. To discover, little by little, the studios where these rarities were secretly painted. I mean the good studios, this one or rhat one where the blues or the dancing arrows or the arrangements of things were alive-and it would often not be the same studio that could do all three. But this is nothing other than normal, all this time, all these steps. 39 - Besides,I've known those who were too hasty there. Perhaps they didnt have the time. In India, as


elsewhere,it's advisablero stay rwo or three weekson the samestreet to get to know a few (a very few) of rhe inhabitants.I rememberone spring afternoonsomeyearsago in a spaciousapartmentoverlooking a canalin one of Hollandt largecities,I was shown a whole collectionof thesepaincings.They had been hastily acquired, obviously, with a kind of delicious and blind excitement, the kind that travelers feel when striking a quick and overly facile bargain.Tiavelersfrom rich countries all know what it's like. The man who showedus thesethings was still excited,asproud of his loot ason the first day.But, believe me, this sad treasurehad no life, no movement.They were like dead butterflies pinned in boxes. 40 - One thing is certain.The licle we do know, the smattering,we'velearnedin the field, slowly,picked up first hand-from a sparklein the eye,from a shakeof the head that meant approvalor rejection. lVas the pieceright or not. Did it have,like a copper wire, the power to conduct, evenfor neophyteslike ourselves? 4l - Of course,books havebeen invaluable.Rich, ultimately, and in great supply. But there is alwaysthe sameregrer:What to do with thosepagesthat explain, among other things, the essentiallyvibratory characterof your thoughts,of your acts,of your relationshipswith others-of your entire life...with hardly a shiver,a flush, a palpitation-without movemsns-lhsrnsslves. rVithout ever movingTaz? Perhapsitt simply rhat the authors have never lived that of which they speak(one could rightly reply that that wasnt rheir purpose:Researchdoesnt imply first-hand knowledSe)or, simply they didn't know how ro expressit. And we who only ever really wanted to know, at the very least,what actually happenedat the moment of ravishment! 42 - These notesopenedwith an eyeand with a frisson.After the first tingle, everything happensbeyond the gaze,more deeply.Perhaps,we have now had a glimpse. It all happenswhen the reflection, when the glow of the object viewed lands without the slightestsound in the spirit. 43 - TirelesslyI continue observingtheseimages.Strange,they'rea bit stiff, almost all of them a bit studious, too well behaved,quite static.Evenso, nearlyall ofthem tingle and vibrate. 44 -Time and time again, they vibrate. It dependsalso on who is looking. Of course.Any work needs a sort of family. A mother and a father, at the least.A mother: the painter. A father: the spectator. 45 -There are black ones,red ones,brown ones,yellow ones,stripedones,itt true. But if we associate them with one color, eternally,it would be blue. Sky blue. Awarenessblue. Pure blue. Azure. 46 - So free, arent they? In their austerecloak ofform and color. 47 - And you could also saythat the paintert brush is transformedalmost every time into an arrow.And chat chearrow, almost every time, has struck the center of the target. 48 - No small talk. No feeling of efforc either. Simply a kind of very discreetbut very sure perfection, without the slightestgrandiloquenceor comment. 49 - Painted silences.Nearly. Facing this slick, glib world. But we've alwaysknown that few words, few notes, few lines are necessaryto breath the essence. Small wild things 50That shine Obstinately. -nanitted

$1 Dana Chivers and Adzm Lchner

l. Ve have deliberately omitted tantric Buddhist piecesfrom the Himalayas, Nepal, and Tibet, which differ culturally from those of the Indian subcontinent. 2. Holy men who have renounccd the world. 3. Fornulas one repeats"millions of times" to call up the energy and power of the deiry phonically. 4. Cosmic energy coiled up at the boe of the spine. 5. As far m possible from the classiel Hindu Vedanta, for whom thc world is but an illusion. 6. In tantrism, the five "m"'s -meat, fish, alcohol, sex, and grilled grains, (munched incessantlythroughout the subcontinent)-are all permitted. In Sanskrit, all five words begin with "m." 7. The initiated adepts. 8. That is the casein Rajasthan,the origin of all the worla presentedhere.


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LI ST

OF \TORKS

Untithd, c.t97o Ch6mu

Untithd, ry91 Udahpur

Gouche, mtcrclor, md tempem on papcr 8 7 l 8 x7 3 l l 6 i n .(2 2 .5x18.2cm) Printe ollection, Pris

Gouche, mterolor, md tmpcm on pagrr 133/8x 8314'n.( 34.1x 22.4c n) Printc ollation, Puis

Untithd c.r97o

IJntitbd, ry91

Ch6mu Gouche, mterolor, md tcmpcm on papcr 8 3 1 4 x7 3 1 8 'n . (2 2.3x18.7 m)

Smganer Gouche, mterulor, md tcmpcm on paper 1l l l 2x 9 l l 2i n. ( 29.2x 22.) c n)

Priute ollction,

Primtc ollction,

Pris

Peris

Untithd cr97o

IJntithd,ry97

Ch6mu Gouche, mterolor, md tcmpcm on papcr 8 13116x7 l/8 in. (22.4 x 18.1 m)

Udai'pur Gouchc, mtcrclor, md tempcn on paper 7 7116x 12 in. (18.9 x 30 cm)

printe ollection.

Primte ollation,

paris

P*is

Untithd, c.t97o Ch6mu

Untithd, ry93 Jaipur

Gouche, wtcrclor, and tempem on paper 8 7 1 8 x7 3 1 1 6 i n .(2 2.Jxl8.2cm)

Gomche, mtcrolor, ud tcmpcm on paper l O x 145/8i n. ( 25.5x 37.3q)

Printc ollcction,

Printc ollction,

Paris

Paris

Untithd, ry9o

Untithd" ry93

Smganer Gouchc, wterolor, ud tcmlrcra on papcr 1 2 1 /8 xl l i n .(3 0 .9 x28m)

Jaipur Gouchc, mtcrolor, ud tempcn on paper l 4r l 4x 97l 8i n.( 36.2x 25.2c m )

Printc ollcction,

Printc ollction,

Paris

Pris

Untitlc4 rggo (pe+.r)

Untithd, t993 Q"'"r)

Bikaner Gouchc, waterolor, ud tcmpera on paper (26.3 x37.5 cm\ l0 5ll6xl43l4in.

Udapur Gouache, mterolor, ud tempen on paper lO 314x8 5l8in. (27.2x22 cm)

Printe ollrction,

Printc ollation,

Puis

Puis

Untithd, ry9o

Untithd" ry95

Jeipu Gouchc, watcrolor, md tcmpemon paper l 0 7 l 1 6 x l 2 l l 8 i n . ( 2 - 6 .5 x3 r .5 m 1 Priwtc ollction, Puis

Ch6mu Gouche, mterolor, md tempcmon paper l 23l 8x93l 4i n.(31.5x25cm) Printc ollection, Pris

UntitleL ry9r

Untithd,ry95

Jeipu Gowhc, mterolor, md tcmpen on paper rl ll2 x9 in. (34.3x22.9 m) Priwtc ollation, Puis

Ch6mu Gouche, mtcrolor, md tcmperaon paper 12 5116x rr 5116in. (31.3x28;/ cm) Printc dlection, Paris

Untitted ry92 Udapur Gourchc,mtcrulor, md tempcn on papcr 1 1x l 2 7 l 8 i n . ( 2 8 x 32 .2 cm ) Printc ollction, Puis

Untitlzd, r9g, (pese 4, top) Udaipu Gowhe, mtcrolor, md emprcmon paper l 2l l 8x93l 4i n.(31.3x24.5cn) Priwte ollcction, Puis

Untitbd ry91 Smgancr Gouache,mterolor, md tcmpcmon papcr 9 1 l 2 x r 3 3 l r 6 i n . ( 2 4 r 3 3 .5 cm ) Printc ollcction, Puis

Untitled, rggj Qa4..c 4, bottom) U&ipu Gouchc, mtcrolor, md tcmpcmon paper l 23l l 6x9l 1l 16i n.(31 x24.7m! Priwtc ollection, Paris

Untithd, 1995

Untitlzd, ry91

UdaiPu Gouche, wtcrolor, md tcmpcmon paper l 2xl l i n.(32'4x28'l cm) Priwtc ollection, Puis

Jodhpu Gouchc, wtcrolor, md tcmpcn on papcr 8 1 l t l 6 x 6 7 l 8 i n . ( 2 2 .1 r 1 7 .2 m ) Priwtc ollcion, Pris

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UntithLrygz

Untitld,zoo,

Jodhput Gouachc*mercolor,and tcmpcreon papcr 8 7l8 t 13 rl2'n (X2.7r ?4.3s) Privzrcollction, Paris

&ngrncr Gouachc,wmeicolor,md tmpcn on papcr 12 314 t 9 314 n, (32.J t M.7 s) Privatccollcction,Paris

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Untithd, zoo, $ngrno Gouachcwarcmlo4 md tcmpcreon papa 14lll6t9 5l8in (35.8124.5nl Privrteoollction, Paris

Jeiiput Gouechc,wetcroolonand tcmpcreon papa 12 718x 9 314in" (3L7 r 24.8 s) Printc colloction,Perir

Untithd, ry97

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Udefput Gouer[c, wecrcolor,aad tcmpcraon papa 13 314t 9 llz'n (35t M.J sl Privetcoollccdon,Parir

&ngrncr Gouechc,weanaolor,and tmpcn on papc 13 3l 16t 8 9l 16 n" (33.6t X2al Prirzrccollcction,hris

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&ngrncr Gouachc,secrcolor, and tcmpcn on pape 13 Jlr6 t9 3116n (33.8t 23.Jnl hivatc collcction,Puis

Udelpur Gouechcw.tcrolor, and tcmpcreon pepe ll ll2 19'lln,(37.1t22.9 q) Privercoollcction,hris UntitbL

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lodhpur Gourchc,wearcolonmd tcmpcreon paga 10 15116r l0 5/8 i!" (27,7rZ7 s) Ptiv:tc collcction,Prris

UntithL zoo, Sangrncc Gouarhg wecrcolor,and tcmpcn on papa 8 7 116t 13 Jl8 n (21.4t ?4.7q) hivrtc oollccdon,Prris Untith4

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Jalpur C'ourchqwlEr@lo!, and tcmpcreon papcr 13 r87116in" (38r 21.5cm) Privateoolloction,Prris

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This is numbcr 5o of the Drawing Papen, a seriesof publications documenting The Drawing Centert exhibitions and public programs and providing a forum for the study of drawing. The zoo4-zoot seasonof the Drawing Papcrsis made possible through contributions to the Edward Hallam Tirck Publication Program from Frances Beatty Adler, Mary and Robert Carswell, Robert Duke, Elizabeth Fonderas, Kathy Fuld, Ellen Gallagher, Mr. and Mrs. James R Houghton, Werner H. Iftamarsky, Joanne Lyman, Michacl Lynne, John J. Madden, George Negroponte, The Felix and Elizabeth Roharyn Foundation, Inc., Shearman& Sterling LLB and Lily Tirck.

Catherine de Zeglrer, Excctttiuc Director George Negroponte, Prcsidnt Boenp or Drnncrons Frances Beatty Adler, Chairman Eric C. Rudin, Vicc-Chairman DitaAmory Melva Bucksbaum FrancesDittmer Colin Eisler Elizabeth Factor Bruce W. Ferguson JamesR Hedges, IV Werner H. IGamarslgl Abby kigh \Tilliam S. Lieberman Michael Lynne Iris Marden Catherine Orentreich Elizabeth Rohatyn* Jane Dresner Sadaka Allen Lee Sessoms Michael Steinberg Jeanne C. Thayer* Andrea Woodner *Emeriti

Dmwing Ccntcr Publietiom Adam lrhncr, Exentiu Ediar LucDcry&c, Daigna Jomna Bcrmm, Coordirunr Thc Drawing Ccntcr 35 Voostcr Strcct NsYork, NY 10013 Tel: 212-219-2166 Fu:212-966-2976 w.dnwingcntcnorg @ 2004 Thc Dnwing Center


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Field of Color: Tantra Drawings from India  

The Drawing Center's Drawing Paper, Volume 50 With an essay by Frank André Jamme.

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