How can visual texts, closed books, and painted images work together in Buddhist temples to reinforce one another and act upon viewers? The fourteenth-century murals at the Tibetan temple of Shalu integrate pictures with long passages of Tibetan texts and select inscriptions that explain the powers of seeing paintings. The murals combine and mix media—books, paintings, cloth—into expressive wholes that ultimately argue that walls are in fact much more than walls. The paintings find ways to make the temple's book collections more accessible. Here we find a public art effort that weaves together a compelling argument for why religious texts and religious art both “work” for and on their audiences. Shalu was a grandly expanded temple showing off its resources and its connections in a broader cosmopolitan sphere of production and exchange. Its walls were designed to weave media together, finding ways to celebrate and explain larger and newer corporate productions (book projects, larger monasteries). An intentional play of materiality (clay, cloth, book) emphasized by the inscriptions and performed in the pictorial compositions assists in the imaginative act of directly seeing deities, while also playing with the awareness that acts of imagination entail the play of just-like/seeing-as. Since neither clay nor cloth nor word on their own are adequate vessels for representing an enlightened being, here they collaborate with each other and with viewers in the imaginative act, promising that the deity, like the teachings, can be directly experienced.

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