There is a scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where, to save his Dad, Indie must overcome a series of obstacles. One of the obstacles is crossing a yawning chasm too wide to jump across, with no bridge and below which is a bottomless pit. Indie consults a sheet of paper which hold the clues to overcoming this conundrum and, drenched in cold sweat, he takes a step out into the open air. Instead of falling, his foot lands on solid ground. That powerful scene has always remained in my mind. Sometimes when all is said and done, you can find yourself standing on the edge of a precipice, the only thing left is faith… that if you have the courage to take the first step you may just hit solid ground.
My first step was saying yes to being responsible for a massive project the likes of which I had never tackled before. That project consisted of designing the display and exhibition of Buddhist Relics. It was an honour to be asked to create an ambience to display these holy objects. No sooner had I agreed to lead this design, then began my doubts as to whether I was competent to do this. After all, I am a mere mortal and a terribly flawed one at that and not even an advanced student of Buddhism. I was aware that there would be protocols and constraints to respect regarding an exhibition of this nature. But the other people at the Buddhist centre, oddly enough, were convinced that I was the one for this job.
Friends from overseas and long time students of Buddhism, when asked for advice as to how to go about designing this show, merely gave me suggestions of creating a beautiful garden. That’s all very poetic, I said to myself, but not particularly helpful nor constructive. Weeks went by and still I had no success in getting guidance and I finally told myself that the most important point of the exhibition was the Relics themselves, so I should let them guide me. And as far as trusting me to do a good job with the show, well, if everyone else trusts me, then who was I to argue with them?
And then it came to me, the inspiration I needed. In addition to the Holy Relics, I also had to incorporate the Maitreya Buddha and Shakyamuni Buddha statues. For those readers not familiar with Buddhism, Shakyamuni Buddha is the current Buddha the world is most familiar with. His statue is usually painted in gold, a face of sublime serenity, both feet crossed in a lotus position , left hand resting in his lap holding a blue alms bowl and right hand stretched downwards in a gesture of touching the earth. Maitreya is the future Buddha and is depicted sitting on a throne, legs uncrossed, feet resting on a lotus.
Thus my idea for the display was born… The Buddhas of the past, present and future. Descriptive Buddhist texts I had read but long forgotten now surfaced to the front of my mind to give me the enchanted garden I was looking to create. Silks in gold were used to drape the display tables. From out of nowhere it seems, came generous benefactors who provided hundreds and hundreds of bunches of orchids to be used and potted tulips and Bodhi trees (this type of tree is sacred in Buddhism). Beautiful lanterns in the shape of lotuses, exquisitely crafted by artisans in Vietnam were made available to me for use as decorations.
My work was practically cut out for me as friends and strangers rang to volunteer to help set up the great hall before opening night, all of us working for a single purpose to bring these holy objects to the people of Perth in Western Australia. It brought tears to my eyes when I thought how I had fretted for months thinking that it would be very difficult to implement my design and worst yet that I wasn’t even sure if it would look good.
I have learnt some valuable lessons from doing this work.
First, I learnt that as a designer, the client’s brief must always come first. You have to respect any constraints and sensitivities that may come with the job. True creativity does not always come from being given carte blanche and an unlimited budget. It comes from finding your way through restrictions and difficulties.
Secondly, I learnt that no matter how good I think I am at what I do, I cannot do it alone. Whether it is a massive project or just simple ordinary living, at any given moment there are always others involved in making my life comfortable and easier, from the house I live in, the education I have, to the clothes on my back…there is always someone other than myself doing something for me. It doesn’t matter whether the people involved are aware of me or not, I give thanks for their presence without which life would indeed be a struggle. Just as I give thanks to the executive director of this exhibition for trusting me to be the designer and to all the people who helped me to stage it.