Lao Arts

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Except for modern and contemporary visual arts, Lao artistic traditions developed around religion and the political and social circumstances that governed the lives of the various ethnic groups in Laos. Many of these traditions, particularly sculpture, music, and classical dance, were strongly influenced by the Khmer, Vietnam, and Thai civilizations. The physical artistic heritage of Laos encompasses archaeological sites, religious monuments and cultural landscapes, traditional towns and villages, and a variety of highly-developed crafts including textiles, wood carving, and basket-weaving. The two great performing art traditions of Laos are rich and diverse folk heritage of the lam or khap call-and-response folk song and its popular theatrical derivative lam luang; and the graceful classical music and dance (natasinh) of the former royal courts.

Little is known about the earliest cultures in the region. The Plain of Jars, a large group of historic cultural sites, containing thousands of large stone jars, which archaeologists believe were used 1,500-2,000 years ago by an ancient Mon-Khmer race. Recently discovered kiln sites in the Vientiane area indicate an active involvement with ceramics manufacture and artistry during the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries. The influence of Theravada Buddhism is reflected throughout Laos in its language as well as in art, literature, and the performing arts. Buddhist sculptures and paintings make up a large portion of the enduring artistic tradition of Laos.

Laotian sculpture

Laotian sculpture is Buddhist sculpture orientation. The earliest Buddha images in present-day Laos are those of the Mon and Khmer kingdoms of the first millennium C.E. Dvaravati-style Mon Buddha images can be seen carved into the rock face at Vangxang, north of Vientiane, and several Mon and Khmer Buddha sculptures recovered from the central and southern provinces are exhibited in museums. The earliest indigenous Buddha images, dating from 1353-1500, show a strong Khmer influence, but by the reign of King Wisunarath (1501-1520), a distinctive Lao style had begun to develop, and statues displayed characteristic beak-like noses, extended earlobes, tightly-curled hair, and long hands and fingers. During this period, two distinctive mudras (hand positions), found only in Lao Buddhist sculpture, appeared: "Calling for Rain," in which the Buddha stands with both arms held stiffly at the side of the body with fingers pointing downwards, and "Contemplating the Tree of Enlightenment" in which the Buddha stands with hands crossed at the wrist in front of the body.