Tibetan Artists Rise to the Fore
Gonkar Gyatso Mixes Buddhist Iconography and Pop Images
HONG KONG — The Tibetan artist Gonkar Gyatso was in Hong Kong last month, putting the final touches on his latest exhibition at Pearl Lam Galleries. A bookish figure in black glasses and a blue button-up shirt, he stopped to inspect one of his new works, a 10-foot by 10-foot collage that showed a construction crane hook holding up the concentric spheres of a mandala, a Tibetan spiritual symbol. Cartoon trucks and diggers surrounded the spheres, which were dripping and melting like the polar caps. The piece, called “Shangri La” (2014), is one of 16 in the show, which runs through Oct. 31.
Artist Tenzing Rigdol made a video performance piece in September 2008 titled “Scripture Noodles” during his residency at the Vermont Art Studio. The video features Tenzing walking into the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant where he cooks Tibetan Buddhist scriptures cut up into noodle-like strips of paper. He fries his ink-laden paper noodles with onions and tomatoes in a wok and then sits on a table to eat this unusual dish with a plastic fork.
Tenzing Rigdol is a multi-disciplinary artist whose work ranges from painting, sculpture, drawing and collage, to digital, video-installation, performance art and site specific pieces. Tenzing’s works are highly political and often touches on issues of exile and occupation. In the last couple of years his works have dealt with subjects such as the self-immolations in Tibet as a form of political protest (Kirti – from the ashes of agony) and in 2011, he smuggled 20,000 kilograms of Tibetan soil from Tibet to India for a site-specific art installation titled “Our land, Our People” that reunited Tibetan exiles with their homeland. (This work was the central story of the 2013 documentary film BRINGING TIBET HOME).
In September this year, the Tibetan community in exile was ripe with rumors, gossip and bad mouthing when someone from the community in Dharamsala, India stumbled upon the video of his performance piece 6 years after it was made. The person illegally downloaded the video and uploaded it on facebook under a deliberately misleading title that goes something like “Mad Artist Tenzing Rigdol eating holy Tibetan scriptures“. This lead to the video going viral on facebook until facebook took it down for copyright infringement. (The original video is available here.)
Many of these viewers, unacquainted with the world of contemporary art or even performance art, assumed that this was a video that a random man has made and was later leaked by the facebook uploader. Many instantly jumped to conclusions and claimed that Artist Tenzing Rigdol was someone who’s resolute at destroying Tibetan Buddhist culture and one poster even went as far as to say that the artist needs to be assassinated. It would seem that anyone in the Tibetan community who keeps himself informed, would know artist Tenzing Rigdol by his previous internationally acclaimed works that strive to highlight the Tibetan cause but most of these facebook critics knew very little about him or his works or of any other Tibetan contemporary artists.
Days after the upheaval on facebook, Tibetan writer Dhondup Tashi Rekjong of Karkhung.com interviewed artist Tenzing Rigdol who speaks in the following video about the origin of Performance Art and explains the meaning behind his work “Scripture Noodles”.