Yu Pan illustrates the ways in which Buddhist teachings can help us to alleviate stress and anxiety

The London-based artist doesn’t regard himself a “pure Buddhist” but believes in the invaluable nature of some of its teachings and culture when dealing with the stresses of life.

7 February 2024

For Yu Pan, the real creative journey is in the gradual process of finding yourself. While pursuing a career in fashion design, after years of study and a job working at an independent womenswear studio, he began to fall in love with the process of planning and creating visual materials for brands, shows, runways and websites. “I began to slowly enter the field of visual communication,” he tells us. “I retained my sense of colour, shape and three-dimensionality, while experimenting a lot,” he adds. As such, he soon decided to pursue his second postgraduate degree in visual communication at the Royal College of Art, where he found his inner artist.

For his graduation project, Conditioning and Not Being Mended, Mong Varanasi, Yu found inspiration in his experience with anxiety. “I’m not sure when I started to get more and more competitive, but I would frequently experience violent heartbeats [...] and the smallest things would make me nervous,” Yu tells us. Questioning the source of his competitive nature and anxiety at the time, he wondered if they were the reaction to external forces or the perceived expectations of others. Because of this, he became evermore enticed by the concept of socialisation, and began reading and researching the implications of it societally. “In my opinion, such a process is painful for us because we are forced to behave in a way that is not natural to us, just so we can integrating ourselves ‘perfectly’ into society,” he adds.


Yu Pan: Conditioning and Not Being Mended, Mong Varanasi (Copyright © Yu Pan, 2023)

Learning that much of his anxiety was stemming from socialisation, Yu decided to incorporate 12 modernisation tools, products and behaviours into the fabric of his project, to represent the 12 pains of the process, largely influenced by the 12 vows of Medicine Buddha. “When I was a kid, my grandmother would bring us back discs of Buddhist songs from time to time, including one called Medicine Buddha Heart Mantra,” he shares. “I used to just find the tune catchy, but as I grew older, I began to learn that Medicine Buddha is the Buddha who symbolises the healing of illness and injury,” he adds. Striving to provide ways for viewers to alleviate anxiety and stress, Conditioning and Not Being Mended, Mong Varanasi visually represents the remedial quality of the vows within our daily lives.

Throughout the series, Yu is inspired by specific laws. When representing the first vow – “I vow to shine my body with light on the boundless worlds, eliminating their ignorance and worries. May all sentient beings have a perfect state and character, and upright mind” – he illuminates the metaphorical imagery with its physical attributes. ‘Light’ is represented as a yellow light bulb, made blurred and powerful against a darker background and abstract shapes. The artist represents the earth with the circular shapes, “the place where we’re born and live,” and the process of birth “where we are illuminated and guided by light, but also pain and coercion,” with the top circles. “I wanted to communicate the mix of emotions felt during forced socialisation and on the other hand the fact that we can soothe our emotions by associating yourself with the bigger picture,” Yu tells us.


Yu Pan: Conditioning and Not Being Mended, Mong Varanasi (Copyright © Yu Pan, 2023)

Representing the vastness of sacred vows, laws or a way of life, is an incredibly daunting feat. But, the artist manages to represent this experience visually, while also communicating all that words can’t translate. “The element I’m most proud of is the set of visual experiences that have taken many years of accumulation,” he tells us. “And while I don’t wish to preach, I want those who are unfamiliar with Buddhist culture to grasp a little bit about it and find alternate methods of unwinding,” he adds. And even if we don’t choose to implement these vows in challenging moments, we can be inspired by Yu’s talent for visually providing a sense of calm and healing.

GalleryYu Pan: Conditioning and Not Being Mended, Mong Varanasi (Copyright © Yu Pan, 2023)

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Yu Pan: Conditioning and Not Being Mended, Mong Varanasi (Copyright © Yu Pan, 2023)

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About the Author

Yaya Azariah Clarke

Yaya (they/them) joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in June 2023 and became a staff writer in November of the same year. With a particular interest in Black visual culture, they have previously written for publications such as WePresent, alongside work as a researcher and facilitator for Barbican and Dulwich Picture Gallery.

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