Agnes Arellano Sculptor

Yabyum/Yantra: Tantric Lotuses



My present work is a result of my continuing search for the sacred; of looking around and formulating my own kind of spirituality. The central theme is the Yabyum. I first celebrated this image in 1983, alongside my Temple to the Moon Goddess. In the sanctum sanctorum of that temple was another variation in recumbent position.

Till then research just came from books, while this is a result of recent travels to India and Bhutan. I have taken liberally from the Hindu, Buddhist and Tantric images from these parts, and strove to put them together and in my own way in order to depict and impart some of the lessons that I learned there.

In the most sacred of chambers inside the dzongs of Bhutan, there is always the YabYum in its wrathful and erotic manifestation usually painted on two-dimensional thankas. Yab-Yum, Tibetan for father-mother, is an image of a man and woman locked in sexual embrace. It also refers to the tantric position for coitus reservatus where the partners do not achieve orgasm but instead reverse the flow of energy upwards to reach cosmic consciousness.

In Himalayan Buddhist imagery, this unity of the male and the female symbolizes the unity of compassion and wisdom, the two most important forces in the universe for achieving harmony and enlightenment.

Here was my Holy Grail! For most of my life, sexuality and religion did not mix. In the postcolonial culture I grew up in, this image would never be found inside a church, maybe would even be classified as pornographic. Yet there it was, splayed in the inner sanctum of the temples, amidst incense and chanting and bells and prayer wheels that brought Magic back to my spiritual search.

This new series of works celebrates the joy of that discovery and affirmation. It’s amusing that I had always imagined I was the great iconoclast but here I am making icons – little figures through which I share the lessons.

As a departure from the bronze Maltese goddesses, I have used classical proportions and gone back to the white of my past inscapes, this time around in maquette-size and cast in synthetic onyx, which has a greater degree of translucency than plaster or cold-cast marble.