What is a Mandala?

What is a Mandala?

According to the dictionary, a mandala is an “integrated structure organized around a unifying center,” but I prefer to define it using its nickname, “The Magic Circle”. The more simple the definition, the more often one can see them in the world: flowers, spiderwebs, eyeballs, tree rings, bird nests, galaxies, snowflakes… and these are just the natural forms. Under the hand of mankind, we create stained glass windows, architectural domes, and even mandalas made of colored sand, intricately arranged in a geometric pattern by Tibetan Buddhist monks in deep meditation. As the grains of sand come together, much like the physics of our universe, a dynamic representation of the world emerges, albeit momentarily.

Tibetan Buddhist Sand Mandala Bochum Jahrhunderthalle Chakrasamvara

Cities are their own mandalas. They grow outward from a singular point and expand (or sprawl) like the petals of flower into the tiers of suburbia. Interestingly, the now archaic definition of a mandala was “a territorial district”. Cities or “Urban Mandalas” (as I like to call them), are not just physical places, but ethereal spaces we can step into. Each one is a completely unique, massive sculpture—an immersive, site-specific art installation inviting the viewer inside for exploration and reflection.

Urban Mandalas: Stonehenge, England; Boudhanath, Nepal; Nördlingen, Germany.

 Stonehenge, England  |  Boudhanath, Nepal  |  Nördlingen, Germany

My photographic mandalas of iconic cities are collaged from innumerable digital trimmings—where pixels take the place of sand. They capture the tone or feeling a particular city presents and represent a place beyond the physical—closer akin to the metaphysical—where cities are seen as the manifestation of human imagination. When you visit a city (or live within it), you are not just an observer, you are a part of it.

Mandala Artwork: Amsterdam, Pittsburgh, Santa Fe
Amsterdam  |  Pittsburgh  |  Santa Fe

TOP IMAGE: Tibetan Sand Mandala from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts encircled by stained glass, kiwi, galaxy, snowflake, jellyfish, flower. POSTED: March 2023.