'Ten Worlds' explores complex Buddhist concepts on a simple canvas

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and, at ASU, the beholders come from all around the world. Take Swapna Das, a painting and drawing masters student who has explored her passion for the arts and her Buddhist practice in her thesis “Ten Worlds.” 

Das’ series of pieces examine the ten spiritual realms of Buddhism consisting of six realms of desire (hell, hunger, animality, arrogance, humanity and heaven) and the four noble realms (learning, realization, Bodhisattvahood and Buddahood). The exhibition is located at the Harry Wood Gallery and runs from March 29 to April 1.

Das said she has been studying Buddhism for 10 years, and the concept of the "Ten Worlds" caught her attention because she believed she could visualize it through her art. She used charcoals, chalks and dry pastels to create the images on the paper. The process has been over a year in the making.

“(I started) last summer and have been working on it until now,” she said. “I was working on this medium a little bit, then I started on my small drawings when my skill got really strong, and I was really able to enjoy my medium.”

Yet it wouldn’t be art without a share of complications throughout the way. Das said she felt self-doubt as her deadline was approaching.

“It was stressful when I knew my show was coming up and by the summer I still didn’t know what I was going to do for my thesis,” she said. “I was also concerned about my progress — I wasn’t really happy with what I was doing at the time. But when I was sure about my concept I kept working on the medium and in no time I finished most of my work, even a month early.”

Even when Das doubted herself, her colleagues and mentors trusted her skill and creativity. One of her most influential mentors, ASU professor of painting and drawing Henry Schoebel, said he has loved witnessing her growing talent during her time at ASU.

“It has been a pleasure working with Swapna over the past three years and to watch her develop as an artist with a unique artistic sensibility and vision,” he said. “Swapna’s thesis exhibition, 'Ten Worlds,' allows all of us to share in some of Swapna’s transformation and her vision of mutual possession of multiple worlds.”

Das’ reach as an artist and person extends far past the boundaries of ASU, Tempe and Arizona. She said she always had a taste for creativity and a desire to explore her artistic options. In 2001, Das attended the College of Art at Delhi University in New Delhi. There she learned the fundamentals of being an artist, which included the art of self-expression.

After graduating, she moved to Baroda, India, and worked independently adjusting her range as an artist and collaborator. Later, she moved back to Delhi and took up graphic art and printmaking while being a full-time instructor and freelancing. It wasn’t until 2011 that she moved to Phoenix with her husband, pursuing her dream to study art in the U.S. ASU opened many door for Das including an exchange program at the Renmin University in Beijing, and a four-week course at the Vermont Studio Center in this coming summer.

Das said she accredits her vision and drive to the Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai International. Her Buddhist faith drives her as an artist and a humanitarian.

Das’ friends and colleagues are especially excited for her thesis, including her supporter Siddhanth Paralkar, a masters student at ASU studying sustainable solutions. Paralkar said he anticipates Das’ art in the future including her thesis.

“The thing I like about Swapna is her creativity, which I think she always portrayed in her art,” he said.

A photo posted by Deborah Hodder (@djhmfa) on

The opening reception for “Ten Worlds” will be held on Tuesday, from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Harry Wood Gallery.

Related Links:

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Indian Fair & Market brings spirit, tradition to Phoenix


Reach the reporter at tanner.stechnij@asu.edu or follow @tannerstechnij on Twitter.

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