The San Antonio Museum of Art recently launched an exhibit for the Dalai Lama Foundation called “The Missing Peace: Artists Consider the Dalai Lama.” One of the contributing artists has caught my eye.
Spanish artist Salustiano has depicted the Dalai Lama as a Chinese girl with red hair in a piece he’s titled “Reincarnation.”
Just last week, the Tibetan spiritual leader announced he would give up his political role in Tibet’s government in order to make way for a new, elected leader. News of the announcement along with a photo of the Dalai Lama surrounded by a group of young monks circulated the globe. As one journalist put it, the Dalai Lama is often captured on camera as standing “illuminated by the suggestion of a smile.”
When I look at Salustiano’s Dalai Lama, I see a young girl with red hair who appears awake, hesitant, and a moment away from the suggestion of a smile. It’s an interesting interpretation; given the role redheads play in Asian culture, in general. Red hair is a sure sign that you’re a foreigner or an outsider. There is even a specific expression for “red haired people” in Singapore and throughout Malaysia: ang mo lang which is very close to ang mo kui or “red-haired devil.”
The only thing that’s devilish about the Dalai Lama, of course, is his wicked sense of humour. At least, that’s what I’ve heard.