TIBETAN ART TRENDS
In 2003, thirteen Tibetans and two Chinese living inside Tibet formed the Gendun Choephel Artists Guild, an organization of artists that hosted monthly rotating exhibits. They dismissed the general perception among Chinese of Tibetans as simply “ethnic,” and they fiercely defended their right to express their own identity.
It is a relatively recent situation for Tibetans to remove art from its iconographical, religious origins of thangkas and scrolls and recontextualize it within the modern dialectic. The most striking example of this process can be found in the work of Gonkar Gyatso, an artist who uses ideological identity portraiture and sophisticated graphics to discuss the modernist dilemma facing contemporary Tibetans. Gyatso has resided within Tibet, China, India and London, and he reflects on his diverse identity within these different locales.
In My Identity 1-4, Gyatso represents himself alternately as a Tibetan native painting a traditional thangka; a Communist Chinese painting a portrait of Mao; a refugee painting a picture of The Dalai Lama; and finally, an international urban sophisticate painting a picture of the cosmos. Who, however, is the real Gonkar?
What is his actual tradition? Where does the truth lie?
Gande is another artist with a deep appreciation of traditional forms. He imbues them with a secondary, critical meaning.
The theme of taking important religious symbols and substituting capitalist ideology is highlighted in his hilarious New Scripture Series piece, Mickey Thangka, which features the tig-say faces of the Buddha and Mickey Mouse.
Then, there is the provocative work of Nortse. Using both painting and photography, he depicts images of individuals who are rendered mute by their covered faces.
The artist Kesang works with the notion of the bardo, the realm one enters after death and before rebirth.
Pewang takes as his subject matter the five mental afflictions of traditional Buddhist thought: desire, aggression, greed, jealousy, and pride. He paints them as celestial deities incorporating traditional flowers, clouds, hand gestures, shading of the body and flora backgrounds.
Contemporary Tibetan artists defy expectations. Many Western Buddhist practitioners would like to see them still produce strictly phonographic, spiritual art. The ecumenical modern art world looks at them as a fourth world minority playing catch up with the post modern predicament and a subset of the white hot Chinese art world. Tibetans themselves are split on the issue. They understand artists must address the rapid social, psychological and economic changes they are confronting as a people but are equally concerned they will lose their traditions in the overwhelming cultural tsunami of rapid globalization. What is certain is that the Gendun Choephal School is sure to address the current and future changes roiling Tibet.
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