I am very proud of London in so many ways. It is the most cosmopolitan city in Europe and up there with New York as the most multicultural in the world. It is the perfect city for an arty-farty person like myself, a cultural hub that many other cities still aspire to be. It has a rich history and its status as a capital of the world is almost impossible to challenge. Now London has another laurel to add to its Britannic wreath. With collaboration alongside the Courtauld Institute of Art, the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert (V&A), and others, London has laid a strong claim to being the epicentre of Buddhism in Europe.
You might have noticed how packed Trafalgar Square was on 31 March. That was because Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, who rubbed shoulders with Thomas Merton, the Dalai Lama, and Martin Luther King Jr., hosted a Dharma talk about quenching the fires of our inner pain. If you missed out on it, that was only the beginning of the invasion. Two weeks ago, the British capital was taken over by Buddhists and scholars of Buddhism, led by the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation and scholars and artists from around the world.
Things were already looking good…
The Ho family has a rich history of philanthropy stretching back to the late nineteenth century, in colonial British-ruled Hong Kong. Sir Robert Hotung’s second wife, Lady Clara Hotung, founded the Buddhist seminary and organization of Tung Lin Kok Yuen, and the Robert H. N. Ho Foundation was established in 2005 by her grandson, Mr Robert Ho Hung Ngai. The V&A has enjoyed a long-standing relationship with the Foundation, with the latter’s objective being to promoe Chinese culture, and preserving and protecting Buddhist temples, monasteries, and other sacred and archaeological sites.
London is Europe’s financial capital, a contender to be Europe’s technology capital, and now, a capital for Buddhist art conservation. Things were already looking good a few years ago, with the opening of the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Gallery of Buddhist sculpture at the V&A. Now, a private £2.5 million donation by Mr Y. C. Ho, son of the Foundation’s founder, kicks off a new Masters in Buddhist Art Conservation, which will be jointly taught by academics and conservators at the V&A, the Courtauld, and the School of Oriental and African Studies. This year’s Buddhist Art Forum was also the first of its kind held at the Courtauld Institute of Art and sponsored by the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation. Until Professor Deborah Swallow took over as the primary director of the Institute, the Courtauld had focused almost exclusively on European or Western art. As if acknowledging London’s multicultural heritage, the Institute is now expanding its conservation interests to the Buddhist world.
…it was an exhausting few days. But it was also incredibly inspiring…
Not content to rest on its already massive laurels, the Foundation also sponsored and hosted the annual International Buddhist Film Festival. Last time it was hosted in London was in 2009, and this year featured some of the more cutting-edge issues in contemporary Buddhist issues, like Tibet, Burma, and the Japanese tsunami. Needless to say, it was an exhausting few days. But it was also incredibly inspiring and rather humbling. Looking at all the conservators and academics who have had so many adventures, and who have contributed to the preservation of Buddhist arts, you realize it’s a huge world, and there is ever so much more to be done. London has done it once again, as a centre of attraction, as a centre of culture.
Image courtesy of Goh