News / Asia

Contemporary Tibetan Art on Display in Beijing

Jhamsang, Buddha series Tara (2009)
Jhamsang, Buddha series Tara (2009)

Multimedia

Audio
Stephanie Ho

A new exhibition at a gallery on the outskirts of Beijing is bringing contemporary Tibetan art to the Chinese public and the rest of the world.

A row of young Tibetan artists stand in front of a towering sculpture of a traditional Tibetan religious object, a stupa. The shape was recognizable, but this stupa is made out of empty beer bottles.

Tseten Kalsang is one of two brothers who created the beer bottle stupa. He says his artwork is about the dialogue between religion, tradition and modernity.  He adds that Tibet's tradition already has been portrayed well, so he is trying to show how the modern world also has affected Tibetan culture. He says the beer bottle stupa is an example of how many cultural changes start with alcohol and food.

Another artist - long-haired, middle-aged Penpa - paints self-portraits. The sometimes naked figures are anguished, with eyes that reveal inner anxiety.

Penpa says many people think of Tibet as a backward place, with an art scene dominated by religious paintings known as thangkas. He says this exhibit has given Tibetan artists a chance to show the world that Tibet also has a thriving contemporary art scene, too.

Tension with China on display

The exhibit in Songzhuang, just outside Beijing, is called the Scorching Sun of Tibet. It brings to China's capital a modern look at a region that has long been troubled. Many Tibetans oppose Chinese rule, and complain the Chinese authorities try to repress their culture, which is based on Tibetan Buddhism.

Beijing says it has brought greater prosperity to the region and freed it from ancient feudalism.  Still, thousands of Tibetans have followed their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, into exile in India.

Tsering Nyandak's paintings depict objects - people and machines - against desolate, almost pastel-colored, backgrounds.  One of his works references riots that rocked Lhasa in 2008,  which he thinks were not depicted correctly by either Chinese or Western media.

"Back then, media had a crucial role, but they did not portray reality at all. Sometimes, reality can be very specific, very personal, if the things in the news are generalized, then it becomes either political or very ideologically oriented," said Nyandak.

The 2008 riots involved an initially peaceful Tibetan demonstration that turned violent after protesters attacked ethnic Han Chinese residents.

Officials say around 20 people died, but Tibetans say Chinese security forces killed any more Tibetans. Afterward, scores of Tibetans were arrested and Chinese authorities barred most foreigners from going to the region.

At the time of the riots, only Chinese journalists were allowed into Tibet. The government cut off Internet and mobile phone access, which made it difficult to verify what had happened.

Well-known Chinese contemporary art critic Li Xianting is the exhibit's curator. He says he first had the idea to hold it in 2007.

Li says that the events of 2008 had an effect on him, but did not delay the exhibit because the artists needed time to create enough artwork to fill the large Songzhuang Art Museum.

Tibet's traditional culture disappearing

One of Li's favorite works involves a grouping of 30 different Tibetan letters, cast in iron, each lying on separate piles of dirt arranged on the floor. He says he believes written language is an intrinsic part of any culture.

Li says he was surprised to discover that many of the young Tibetan artists in the exhibit did not read or write that well in their own language.  He describes this as a "very serious matter," and says he thinks it is, in his words, "a form of control over Tibetans" that there is not enough Tibetan language instruction in their schools.

The tension between tradition and the modern world is the overall theme of the exhibit. One work shows rows of hundreds of small mock clay plaques, covering a wall. They look like traditional Buddhas, but actually are Mickey Mouse figures. In other paintings full of recognizable Tibetan symbols, the figures posed as traditional Buddhas turn out to be men in business suits or curvaceous women in bikinis.  

Prayer wheels are ubiquitous to Tibetans, and there are four at the entrance to the exhibit. Instead of covering the wheels with religious mantras, though, the artist uses the names of four generations of Chinese leaders - Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao - as a way of representing a process of assimilation and change for people in Tibet.

You May Like

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More