SOCIAL NETWORKS AND THE COMMERCIALIZATION OF REBGONG TIBETAN THANGKAS

Elizabeth Reynolds

ABSTRACT


Thangkas, or painted or embroidered religious scrolls, are crucial to the religious life of Tibet as a medium through which the highest ideals of Buddhism are evoked and brought to life. Although thangkas have been a crucial component of Tibetan cultural and religious life for hundreds of years, the past few decades have witnessed the commercialization of thangka production. Within commercialization there is a process of network expansion. Social connections are formed between individuals, families, stores, companies, and villages. The production, distribution, and promotion stages of Rebgong Tibetan thangka paintings demonstrate the formation and aggregation of these complex networks within the Tibetan cultural community. The commercialization of thangkas throughout China has led to an expansion of external consumer and distribution networks unprecedented in the history of this sacred art form.

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