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Tiirtha, is a Sanskrit word meaning a sacred place that is visited on a pilgrimage wherever we live. Our cultural memories lie within the physicality of place that has historical and metaphysical connotations. From ancient time forward, people have journeyed to sacred places, leaving behind some personal object and taking home something to connect them to the place. This exhibition is part of my Marking Sacred series, which gives expression to my journeys through many cultures over the years.
While hiking to a monastery in Bhutan, I found an offering of burgundy threads on a branch at the confluence of the pathways. Prayer flags, tattered and twisted by the fierce winds on a Himalayan pass, sent prayers continually into the sky. The priest wrapped a red thread around my wrist on a visit to his temple.
In Bolivia I carried a stone from the valley to the mountain pass, placing it with others to mark safe passage. And on the return trip, I found a feather to carry home as a memory. Stacked stones, cairns, inukshuks and stupas all mark sacred earth points, sought after and acknowledged by travelers.
In Southern India turmeric roots are entwined in marigold colored threads, then wrapped around sacred stone statues and trees. Handprints of sacred ash are placed on the walls of temples. Certain stones in fields are covered in red kumkum powder and coconut oil for protection.
In Japan, people leave folded papers, stones or wood panels inscribed with hopes and fortunes. A beautifully prepared bundle of rice or food offers thanks. A Buddhist pilgrim may transfer his present or past sins to a stone, wrap it with wool yarn, and leave it hanging on the branch of a sacred pine tree, hoping for absolution.
Walking by the remains of the World Trade Center, I felt the heartbreak in notes, ribbons and pictures tied to chain link fences. Recently walking in my Seattle neighborhood, I saw trees wrapped with multitudes of pink ribbons, solidarity in spirit and support for breast cancer research. And when recently visiting the Empowering Women exhibition at the Santa Fe Museum of International Folk Art, my daughter, granddaughters and I left with pink, plastic wrist bands.
We live in a world where it may be difficult to feel a part of the whole, but we continue trying to find ways to connect to place and to each other. By leaving offerings of our own, we connect not only with those who have come before us, but also to those travelers yet to come.