Mongolian artist Munkhtsetseg Jalkhaajav, also known as Mugi, recently concluded “Earthbound”, her first solo exhibition in Hong Kong. Through collage, oil painting and sculpture the artist depicts the re-emergence of Mongolian heritage in the aftermath of communist control.

Munkhtsetseg Jalkhaajav, Healing, Collage on Sa Paper, 80 x 55 cm, 2011

Munkhtsetseg Jalkhaajav, 'Healing', 2011, collage on sa (mulberry) paper, 80 x 55 cm. Image courtesy Schoeni Art Gallery.

Click here for more information on the exhibition, titled “Earthbound”, at Schoeni Art Gallery.

Mongolian political transition key

Mugi was born in 1967 in Ulaanbaatar (also known as Ulan Bator), the capital and by far the largest city in Mongolia. Ulan Bator was the site of demonstrations that led to Mongolia’s transition to democracy and the development of a market economy in 1990. The artist, a witness to the change, was so frustrated with studying under a socialist system – at both the Art Institute in Ulaanbaatar, from 1983 to 1987, and the Academy of Fine Art and Theatre, Minsk, from 1989 to 1993 – that she chose not to graduate.

As she explains in an interview with the British art critic Ian Findlay, published in Asian Art News in 2009,

During the communist time in Mongolia and Russia, I only studied good technique and colour, but there was not any heart in the teaching…. The Soviet art curriculum was little more than propaganda. [I wanted to make art that possessed] a physical presence, colours that are typically Mongolian, and with a geometry to the features that comes from traditional culture. I also wanted stillness in my art that reflects something of the stoicism of nomadic Mongolian culture.

The communist era brought about a massive eradication of Mongolian traditions and cultural life. Tsendsuren Narangerel, a painter and dean of the decorative art department of the Fine Art Institute of Mongolia in Ulaanbaatar, notes,

The great losses for Mongolians are the great painting traditions of the seventeenth century and their philosophy of life. The philosophy of the Mongolian is their nomadic way of life and respect for nature and the earth. The worst is that Mongolians not only lost their national art but also the pride of their culture during the Soviet period.

Munkhtsetseg Jalkhaajav, Can You Fly, Oil on Canvas, 199.5 x 199.5 cm, 2009

Munkhtsetseg Jalkhaajav, 'Can You Fly' 2009, oil on canvas, 199.5 x 199.5 cm. Image courtesy Schoeni Art Gallery.

Depicting women

Mugi, who was a young artist during Mongolia’s transition to democracy, was determined to move away from communist propaganda and revisit elements of the “eroded” Mongolian culture. This newfound freedom influenced a narrative of emotional and spiritual healing, expressed in her depictions of women.

Women in Mongolia have always been equal and this is why she doesn’t try to take a feminist point of view. ‘I just express what I think and feel. It is up to the viewer to interpret what they see. Mongolians have always respected women as equals. Women have the right to rule the household and the state. When men, in the past, went to war, women controlled everything. In traditional life men had to listen to women. So, all my paintings represent the power of women.’

‘When I had learned to paint all the physical elements of the body, it felt like my painting had gained a soul. It felt like a living being was being born through the painting and it became more spiritual as my work moved from the merely physical representation.

Jalkhaajav explores questions of spirituality, birth and death, female sexuality, personal disappointment and motherhood and uses numerous symbols from Mongolia’s cultural heritage in her work.

Munkhtsetseg Jalkhaajav, Earthy Inspiration Series No. 2, Oil on Canvas, 200 x 150 cm, 2011

Munkhtsetseg Jalkhaajav, 'Earthy Inspiration Series No. 2', 2011, oil on canvas, 200 x 150 cm. Image courtesy Schoeni Art Gallery.

Munkhtsetseg Jalkhaajav, Steppe Mother, Oil on Canvas, 200 x 150 cm, 2010

Munkhtsetseg Jalkhaajav, 'Steppe Mother', 2010, oil on canvas, 200 x 150 cm. Image courtesy Schoeni Art Gallery.

Munkhtsetseg Jalkhaajav, Tenderness, Oil on Canvas, 120 x 70 cm, 2011

Munkhtsetseg Jalkhaajav, 'Tenderness', 2011, oil on canvas, 120 x 70 cm. Image courtesy Schoeni Art Gallery

From painting to collage and sculpture

The technique used by Mugi in the creation of her collage pieces differs significantly to that used for her paintings. According to Asian Art News,

In her paintings the spirit of her figures emerges from beneath the brush, but in collage she says, ‘When I create a figure I do it by tearing the paper, I use my hands and it feels like the paper itself creates the figure.’

Although Jalkhaajav never studied sculpture, she was inspired to consider it after seeing sculptures by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama in New York in 2001. She describes her sculptures as a three dimensional elaboration on her paintings and creates soft figures and forms with materials such as stretched fabric, thread, sponge, mirror, fabric and silk.

When I am making soft sculpture, I feel that I am creating a human body by the lunar calendar. In the lunar calendar, the human soul exists in different organs every day. For example, first the soul exists in the feet, then the soul exists in knees, and so on.

Munkhtsetseg Jalkhaajav, I don't Tell Where I'm From, Soft sculpture, 2012 (HR, white background)

Munkhtsetseg Jalkhaajav, 2012, 'I don't Tell Where I'm From', soft sculpture. Image courtesy Schoeni Art Gallery.

Munkhtsetseg Jalkhaajav, Childs Dream, 48 x 90 x 23 cm, Stretch Fabric, Thread and Sponge, 2009 (with mongolian steppe background added by photoshop)

Munkhtsetseg Jalkhaajav, 'Child's Dream', 2009, 48 x 90 x 23 cm, stretch fabric, thread and sponge (Mongolian steppe background added using Photoshop). Image courtesy Schoeni Art Gallery.

Munkhtsetseg Jalkhaajav, SOS, Fabric and Silk, 120 x 50 x 60 cm, 2009

Munkhtsetseg Jalkhaajav, 'SOS', 2009, fabric and silk, 120 x 50 x 60 cm. Image courtesy Schoeni Art Gallery.

Munkhtsetseg Jalkhaajav, Who Am I, 60 x 24 x 26 cm, Stretch Fabric, Thread, Sponge and Mirror, 2012

Munkhtsetseg Jalkhaajav, 'Who Am I', 2012, 60 x 24 x 26 cm, stretch fabric, thread, sponge and mirror. Image courtesy Schoeni Art Gallery.

“Earthbound”, a show of works by Mongolian artist Munkhtsetseg (Mugi) Jalkhaavjav was held at the Schoeni Art Gallery in Hong Kong from 12 April to 7 May 2012.


Related Topics: Mongolian artgallery shows, the female form, art in Hong Kong

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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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