Transcendental Gonkar Gyatso


Wall Street International article by Raffaele Quattrone

There is a bridge able not only to connect but also to create a dialogue linking East and West, spirituality and matter in a great harmony. It is the bridge in the construction of which many of us are engaged as well as many visual artists among which we can mention Kimsooja, Shirin Neshat, Wang Qingsong, Takashi Murakami, Imran Qureshi, Francesco Simeti, Alessandro Moreschini, Gonkar Gyatso. About the practice of Gonkar Gyatso I dwelt on several occasions including an interview published here on the pages of the Wall Street International where I defined Gyatso, English-American artist born in Tibet, a “post-global ethnographer” interested in developing the ties between traditional Buddhist iconography and Western pop culture, Eastern spiritual tradition and Western materialistic culture paying to both the same care and attention.

Read the full article at the Wall Street International / Art

BIOGRAPHY – Born in Tibet in 1961, Gyatso studied traditional Chinese ink and brush painting in Beijing, Thangka painting in Dharmsala and fine arts in London. Gyatso was the recipient of a Leverhelm Fellowship in 2003 as an artist in residence at Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. He is the founder of the Sweet Tea House, a contemporary Tibetan Art Gallery in London. His work has been internationally exhibited in galleries and museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City), The Museum of Fine Arts (Boston), the Tel Aviv Museum of Art (Israel), The Institute of Modern Art (Australia), the Rubin Museum of Art (New York) the Chinese National Art Gallery (Beijing), the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art (Scotland), the Courtauld Institute of Art (London), Burger Collection (Switzerland), the Wereldmuseum Rotterdam (Netherlands), Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art (Australia), Colorado University Art Museum and Collections (USA), the 53rd Venice Biennial (Italy), the 6th Asia Pacific Triennial in Brisbane (Australia) and the 17th Sydney Biennale. His work is held in numerous public and private collections around the world.


Transcending Tibet: 30 Tibetan and non-Tibetan artists exploring Tibetan Identity today.

Over the last two decades Trace Foundation has been working with Tibetan communities on the plateau, supporting continuity and development of Tibetan culture, language, art and preservation of Tibetan heritage. After traveling in Tibet, and struck by the challenges faced by the local communities, Andrea E. Soros founded Trace Foundation to support Tibetan people and culture in Western China. Since it’s inception, Trace has touched thousands of lives on the plateau through its humanitarian, educational and development works.

Celebrating it’s 20th year Trace holds several landmark events including, Lens on Tibet, a film series held at MoMA featuring works of Tibetan filmmakers exclusively from inside Tibet. Many of the filmmakers featured in the program were former scholarship winners of Trace’s education program that enabled them to study film. Most notably, filmmaker Pema Tseden and Sonthar Gyal, who studied at the Beijing Film Academy under this program, has proven themselves as exceptional filmmakers and have exhibited their works in many important film festivals around the world.

So far Trace has provided about 5000 scholarships to support undergraduate and postgraduate training for young Tibetans from the plateau.

Ending April 12, Transcending Tibet: Celebrating Contemporary Tibetan Art, is a group show featuring specially commissioned works by 30 Tibetan and non Tibetan artists exploring Tibetan Identity today. Some of the featured artists from inside Tibet are Nortse, Benchung, Jamsang, Gade, Tsering Nyandak, and also featured are works by exile artists Gonkar Gyatso, Tenzing Rigdol, Trulku Jamyang, Tashi Norbu, Rabkar Wangchuk, Tenzin Phakmo, and many more.

Gade, Let’s Sing that Song

Many of the works by the different artists follow a similar theme in Tibetan contemporary art focusing on the clash of modernity and tradition; Buddha and Mickey Mouse in one frame but nonetheless these are stunning and colorful pieces.

Benchung, Meditator Beware, 1 of 3

Some of these works have subtle yet more profound socio-political messages including this one by Benchung, Meditator Beware, a self-portrait of the artist tied from the knee to his back by a piece of cloth that looks like a monk’s robe. Scribbled on the wall behind, you see names of a few radical Tibetan writers from exile, Ai Wei Wei, Phayul, a website for Tibetan news from exile, Facebook, google, etc.

Although the exhibition has stayed clear of any outright political messaging in these commissioned works, it is hard not to notice the urge from the artists to make a point in many of these works. On one wall sits quietly, a piece by artist Tenzing Rigdol. A portrait of a faceless Buddha, the face covered in flames of fire, possibly hinting at the 140+ self-immolation protests that has taken place in TIbet in the recent years.

The show features many lesser-known artists too including some breathtaking calligraphy by Phuntsok Tsering, a Tibetan artist from Germany. In one collaboration, Jewellery designer Nathalie Jean with Rudy Prampolini has taken inspiration from Tsering’s artwork and created a silver necklace with the calligraphy titled “Light Offering”. For this show, 25 Internationally renowned designers including Italian brand, Costume National, have created fashion items inspired by some of the artworks. Some of these designer wears and artworks are on sale at their online auction here to support the foundation’s work.

Light Offering, Phuntsok Tsering, Nathalie Jean with Rudy Prampolini


The show runs from March 14 to April 12 2015 at the Rogue Space Chelsea 508 W 26th Street, 9E-F New York, NY 10001

More from Trace’s page:

Top 7 Tibet and Art related events to attend this March.

1. Tibet House Benefit Concert – Music Concert, NYC, USA, March 05

The Flaming Lips

This year’s Annual Tibet House US Benefit Concert, celebrating Tibetan new year – Year of the Wood Sheep, and 25 years of Tibet House US,  will feature a line-up of some of the world’s most impressive musicians and artists. To be held at it’s usual venue, Carnegie Hall, Artistic-Director and composer Philip Glass will open one of New York’s most loved annual music events. Other performers include The Flaming Lips, Patti Smith and band with Jesse Paris Smith, Tenzin Choegyal, Artist Laurie Anderson and many more. Monks from the Drepung Monastery, some of whom were recently featured in House of Cards Season 3 will also present an invocation at the concert.

Click here to learn more.


2. Bringing Tibet Home – Film Screening, Mexico City, Mexico, March 10

Bringing Tibet Home Mexico

Award winning documentary film, Bringing Tibet Home will be screened at multiple locations in Mexico. The film opens at the Cinemex WTC in Mexico City on March 10 and will travel to other cities including Cuernavaca, Querétaro, Monterrey, Puebla and Morelia. The film tells the story of Tibetan artist Tenzing Rigdol and his 2011 art installation in Dharamsala, India, where he made possible, a symbolic re-union between Tibetan exiles and their land using 20 tones of smuggled soil from Tibet.

Click here to learn more.


3. Night of Music and Resistance with Tenzin Choegyal – Music Performance, NYC, USA, March 10

Tenzin Choegyal at SFT

Australia based renowned Tibetan musician Tenzin Choegyal will perform live at the Students for a Free Tibet office in New York City. This month he will also perform at the Carnegie Hall Tibet House Benefit Concert.

Click here to learn more.


4. A Brush With Reality – Art Exhibition, NYC, USA, March 13


Tara Lobsang is a Tibetan artist and master calligrapher born and raised in Tibet, educated in India, and currently living in New York. In A Brush With Reality, Lobsang wields his sweeping brushstrokes and spiritual faith to delve into a range of human emotions, cosmological landscapes and metaphysical truths. Opening March 13.

Click here to learn more.


5. Transcending Tibet – Art Exhibition, NYC, USA,  March 18

Transcending Tibet

Representing thirty emerging and established artists from the Tibetan Plateau and around the world, Transcending Tibet is a landmark exhibit of newly commissioned work. Mining the visual and material history of both Tibet and the modern world – re-appropriating iconography, playing boldly with everything from acrylic and oil to mirrors illuminated with LEDs – these artists offer a varied and nuanced look at Tibetan identity and culture today

Click here to learn more.

6. Ottawa Tibet Film Festival, Ottawa, Canada March 21

Ottawa Tibet Film Festival

The Ottawa Tibet Film Festival (OTFF) will be hosting its 3rd annual film festival March 21, 2015 at the St. Paul University Amphitheatre! The festival will be an opportunity for the Ottawa region to experience and learn more about the people, culture and land of Tibet through a series of feature-length movies and documentaries. Showcased films include, among others, Bringing Tibet Home, Old Dog, Tibet in Songs, Milarepa…

Click here to learn more.


7. Watch Season 3 of HOUSE of CARDS, Netflix, March

House of Cards Tibet

In episode 7 of House of Cards, Season 3, Tibetan monks share the White House with the Underwoods. The monks spend a month inside the White House calmly building a Sand Mandala while the President and the First Lady attempts at amending their fragile relationship whilst also at the same time trying to stay at the top of their game. A unique yet beautiful episode ripe with symbolisms, the story shuffles back and forth in time. Nothing is forever. No major spoilers here!

Click here to learn more.


Songs for the Tibetan dead: A Performance Unlike Any Other

Tenzin Choegyal with Jesse Paris Smith, Laurie Anderson and band.

Tenzin Choegyal with Jesse Paris Smith, Laurie Anderson and band at the Rubin Museum of Art. Photo: © Raymond Haddad

Composer and musician Tenzin Choegyal is well known for his haunting melodies, soaring vocals and an addiction to experimentation. So when I took a seat last night in the Rubin Museum’s acoustic theater for a sold-out show by Choegyal alongside Laurie Anderson and Jesse Paris Smith, I expected to be surprised. But nothing could have prepared me for what was to come: an hour-long journey into the great unknown, filled with visualizations of death, rebirth and the great mystery of awakening.

Choegyal and friends performed a breathtaking and sublime musical adaptation of Bardo Thodrol (The Great Liberation Through Hearing), a Tibetan Buddhist text usually read for the dead or dying by a Tibetan lama. In the process of dying, Buddhists believe, a person’s consciousness goes through several different stages, where the dying person begins to see different kinds of colors, sharp lights, and terrifying images. The consciousness, blinded by the lights and terrified by the images of wrathful deities, is often lured into the more inviting paths of softer shades that lead to lower realms of rebirth. But if the dying person can face the blinding lights squarely, unafraid of the wrathful images and sounds, she can use this ‘moment of clear light’ to attain instantaneous enlightenment. The Bardo Thodrol, also known as the Tibetan Book of the Dead, is read to the dead with the intention of guiding them through this in-between state following one’s death and before entering rebirth.

With his trademark vocals accompanied by the unmistakable twang of his dranyen, Choegyal rendered the Bardo Thodrol, magically, into a multidimensional journey for the lay audience, an awe-inspiring rehearsal for the ultimate moment of clear light that awaits us all. Laurie Anderson’s intimate and powerful narration of the book was an artwork of the highest order, holding the audience enraptured, imprisoned, and eventually released. Jesse Paris Smith and her friends, with their panoply of futuristic instruments and the perfectly timed clanking of cymbals, created a cosmic soundtrack that was by turns apocalyptic, spellbinding and liberating.

At the end of the show, when Choegyal explained that this particular performance of Bardo Thodrol was dedicated to the more than 140 Tibetans who have self-immolated in the last four years for the cause of Tibetan freedom, the audience broke into a collective gasp, followed by rapturous and emotional applause. For many, it was as if the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle fell into its place, revealing a profound and devastating truth that had been brewing for an hour, in fact, for four years. No one left the concert hall without being moved – or transformed – by the unforgettable experience.

– by Tendor

Learn more about Tenzin Choegyal

Ending in January – Anonymous Contemporary Tibetan Art Group Exhibition at Queens Museum, New York

Nortse, Group Photo, 2007, Chromogenic color print, 21.7” x 21.7”. Artist lives and works in Lhasa, Tibet.

Nortse, Group Photo, 2007, Chromogenic color print, 21.7” x 21.7”. Artist lives and works in Lhasa, Tibet.

Featuring works by Tibetan artists from inside Tibet and exile, the Anonymous show presents a large collection of artworks by known and new artists. Curated by Rachel Perera Weingeist, the works are mostly drawn from the Shelly and Donald Rubin private collection. The show opened initially at The Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art at New Platz in 2013 and has traveled to Fleming Museum of Art at the University of Vermont in 2014.

The current presentation at the Queens Museum opened in September this year and will close on January 4 2015.

In a range of mediums and individual styles, the artists explore themes of identity and self-expression. Displayed without attribution, the videos approach these themes from an alternative vantage point” embracing anonymity as an opportunity for open exploration and the presentation of oft-censored imagery. Experienced collectively, the range of work across media considers the varied roles of self-expression and identity in contemporary Tibetan culture.

Tibetan Artist Gonkar Gyatso at Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong (NY Times)

An untitled mixed-media sculpture from 2012 by Gonkar Gyatso. Credit Photograph by Jerome Favre, courtesy of the artist and Pearl Lam Galleries

An untitled mixed-media sculpture from 2012 by Gonkar Gyatso. Credit Photograph by Jerome Favre, courtesy of the artist and Pearl Lam Galleries

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.

Read Full Article Here

Tenzing Rigdol’s Scripture Noodles

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 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”.