Dusti Bongé bamboo watercolor reveals interest in Buddhism

We continue to discover more and more about Mississippi’s first modernist painter, Dusti Bongé, through our partnership with the Dusti Bongé Art Foundation in Biloxi. This week, surprising insights into her interest in Buddhism which could have been sparked by the Vietnamese population in the area. What brought Vietnamese people to Biloxi, MS and the Gulf Coast? The region’s shrimp industry, which they had been familiar with in their homeland, and the necessity of fleeing their home country during and following the Vietnam War.

In a recent story for Forbes.com, I profiled an artist who made a career creating powerful images of Asian American refugees and immigrants – like herself – Hung Liu.

This week’s artwork, as always, is given context by Dusti Bongé Art Foundation Executive Director Ligia M. Römer.

Dusti Bongé, Untitled (Pink Bamboo), c. 1985, watercolor on paper, 9 1/2” x 5”

During the 1980s we saw that Dusti Bongé started experimenting with her small joss paper watercolor paintings. At the same time she also began exploring her long sustained interest in Buddhism in new ways. 

Dusti initially came to Zen Buddhism in the late 1940s during her increasing association with Betty Parsons and the New York arts scene. She became intrigued with its philosophies as well as with Jungian ideas about the power of the unconscious mind. Her renewed interest in Buddhism may have been stirred in part by the increasing Vietnamese cultural presence in Biloxi. 

Dusti’s approach this time was through interpreting various core Buddhist concepts through her art, and through meditative rituals. She explored the Zen Buddhist notion of the “void” through her abstract paintings. She studied Chinese calligraphy, repeatedly painting the symbols for the idea of “absolute compassion.” and she created her many joss paper paintings.

But she also painted small works inspired by the very simple beauty of bamboo, which was often celebrated by Asian artists as well. She did numerous iterations of the treelike grass, sometimes in compositions with its stems and leaves and other times just the stems, playing with their repetitive ring patterns. The fact that bamboo grows abundantly here on the Gulf Coast, may well have played into her creating these small paintings.

Dusti Bongé’s bamboo studies have a meditative, soothing quality and must have offered her a way to clear her mind, allowing her unconscious mind to flow, and come forth in her other work.

No Comments Yet.