THE ECCENTRIC ARTIST AS A SHAMAN
In 1958, a whimsical mystic named Bunleua Sulilat envisioned a place where the fiery products of his imagination come to life in the form of larger-than-life concrete sculptures which combine Buddhist and Hindu deities as well as of beasty creatures. He turned a deserted patch of land 24 kilometers southeast of Vientiane into his blank canvas of bizarre sculptures, a product of childish spontaneity and a sense of wonder. His choice of material was the one most accessible to him that time, the cement factories that used to dot the Lao riverside. His eccentricity spread like wildfire, which spawned fanatic followers. The park was named Xieng Khuan, better known as the Buddha Park aka Suan Phut.
Sulilat was a Luang Pu, a Venerable Grandfather, a combination of a myth-maker, spiritual cult leader and a sculptor, whose quirky and weird visions eventuated into cryptic works. Thus, in his master pieces, statues of Shiva, Vishnu, Arjuna, Avalokiteshvara, Buddha, and numerous other deities can be recognized; every piece of work was supposedly cast by devout followers and unskilled artists under Sulilat’s supervision.
During the revolution when communism rose in the country in 1975, the Thailand-born shaman fled the country by crossing the nearby Mekong. Three years later, he established the similarly inspired Buddha Park, called Wat Khaek in Nong Khai, Thailand. The latter would be the more elaborate between the two, facilitating inclusion of the modern objects (like cars) among his statues. He died in 1996 at the age of 64.
I consider my visit to this park as among my favorites during the whole backpacking trip, mainly because this was a tactical uncertainty. It was not part of the itinerary. Moreover, I was running out of time. The park is far from Vientiane. Transportation going there isn’t that easy to come by unless you are willing to hire a tuktuk for the whole trip, which would be expensive. I was in awe of the huge statues standing all over the park. It was a case of bewilderment, of fascination. During my visit, the park was almost deserted and I couldn’t shake the eerie feeling of being “watched” by these statues. They stoked my imagination. The mind indeed is a powerful creator. This park is a testament to this.
For this blog post, I took the liberty to pick and showcase very specific details from selected oeuvres; little portions from these unpainted giant sculptures. The images that you see on this page are the exact portions of these standing structures, taken from my own photographs taken at the aforementioned park. These are not drawings or paintings, but magnified and colorized/de-colorized portions of Sulilat’s works from Xieng Khuan (which literally means “Spirit City”). It is rather easy to ignore the artistic details from these concrete sculptures because the whole objects are mind-boggling, scene-stealing pieces from a very eccentric (some say sick) mind. In the succeeding posts, you shall see the unabridged, unmodified pieces as they stand in the park.
Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat, the eccentric myth-maker, spiritual cult leader and a sculptor who founded the Xieng Khuan (Buddha Park).
- John Maizels, Deidi von Schaewen, Angelika Taschen (ed.), Fantasy Worlds, Taschen (2007), pp. 218-221.
- John Maizels (ed.), Raw Vision Outsider Art Sourcebook, Raw Vision Ltd (2002), pp. 98-99.- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luang_Pu_Bunleua_Sulilat
- Lonely Planet Laos by Andrew Burke and Justine Vaisutis
Up next: Journey to the Buddha Park and Sulilat's bizarre sculptures: