Organized Panel Session
The practice of constructing new Buddha images over existing ones is common in northern Thailand. As stucco and cement images deteriorate they are given entirely new exteriors that often bear no aesthetic resemblance to their original forms. Some particularly old Buddha images have been covered over three to four times, creating nested Buddhas similar to matryoshka dolls. This process, known as khrop (Thai: to cover), is the work of specialized craftspeople who carry both artistic and ritual know-how passed down through specific lineages. This paper presents the work of one northern Thai craft lineage that has been central to the codification of what is known as “Lanna-style” Buddhist art. “Lanna” is an edited, curated, and invented neo-traditional aesthetic. Solidified in resistance to central Thai aesthetics, Lanna Buddhist art has come to dominate Buddhist material production in northern Thailand. I present specific case studies that show how, through acts of khrop, Lanna Buddhist aesthetics has begun to (literally) cover over the regional variation that defines the Buddhist landscape of northern Thailand. Instead of bemoaning this loss of aesthetic difference, however, I frame khrop and the ascent of Lanna, in larger social and cosmological concerns as they are voiced by the villagers, monks, and craftspeople who facilitate this material practice.