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Tibet Art Now On the Threshold of a New Future

Exhibition Contemporary Tibetan Art



Tibet Art Now

On the Threshold of a New Future

Exhibition of Contemporary Tibetan Art Amsterdam 3 June - 6 July 2009

Foundation for Meeting with Tibetan Culture


CONTENTS •• •• •• •• •• •• •• •• •• •• •• •• •• ••


Foreword by Tashi Norbu 5 Introduction by Eckart Dissen 6 Losang Gyatso 8 Gonkar Gyatso 10 Karma Phuntsok 12 Tashi Norbu 14 Puntsok Tsering 16 Tharphen Lingtsang 18 Namgyal Dorjee 20 Rosemarijn Dissen 22 Elke Hessel 24 Paul Hilkens 26 Tibet Art Movement 29 Colofon 30

If you won’t make a grand gesture, you can’t make a difference.


t is my desire to bring together Tibetan artists and to develop ourselves through mutual cooperation. The Tibet Art Now exhibition is so extraordinary because, for the first time, Tibetan artists living in exile all over the world will come together in Amsterdam. It is our aim to encourage the present generation to find inspiration in traditional Tibetan culture thus keeping it alive for the future. Being innovative doesn’t mean you have to neglect your heritage. We aim to establish a dialogue between traditional and contemporary techniques and to show the next generation of Tibetans that they can enjoy their ancient traditions in their own personal way. The early 20th century poet and artist Gendun Chöpel provides a great example. He was very much ahead of his time as he, even then, stood for change and innovation in art. Today, progress can be found in contemporary artists like Gonkar Gyatso, who has been invited to take part in the Venice Biennale 2009. By bringing together exiled Tibetan artists, I am hoping to inspire all Tibetans and to show them that personal growth and the development of Tibet go hand in hand; that they are one. This exhibition is a peaceful way of showing a positive view of Tibet.

Tashi Norbu


‘In order to develop a certain inner progress the artist’s thing is very much influential and helpful. The artists with their art have a powerful means to give a message. The task of the artist is of crucial importance in society, particularly to strive for a less aggressive, more peaceful, more gentle humanity. Art is especially helpful for those people, whose minds are always being directed outward, because with this art they need to turn themselves inward.” HH the Dalai Lama


ibetan contemporary art may sound like an anachronism, as we are used to see Tibetan art as an expression of Tibetan Buddhism that has been flourishing for centuries in the Tibetan high lands and still is. Involuntary Tibetan history changed dramatically from the 1950s onward. Until then Tibet had been an isolated country visited only by a few explorers and missionaries. What they found and conveyed to the West was an image of an intact functioning theocracy, may be the last ancient culture on earth. In the 20th century Western states, but also Asian states like China, India and Russia, became aware of the strategic position of Tibet and tried to increase influence either by diplomacy or by force. The latter has been used from 1950 until today by China, first with diplomatic representation, later by the actual army occupation after the 1959 Lhasa uprising. China incorporated Tibet as a province (called the Tibet Autonomous region, or TAR) and destroyed almost the entire Tibetan Buddhist culture, making numerous victims in the monasteries and towns. In 1959 His Holiness the Dalai Lama fled from Tibet as many Tibetan lama’s, monks, artist and civilians. This has created a breach in the culture and in the transmission of wisdom, knowledge, arts and skills. Against this background it is remarkable, that Tibetan Buddhist art, though on a decreased level, is still practiced inside Tibet. In the 1980s the first signs of a liberalization were noticed in China, and consequently also in Tibet. Until then, in the Chinese and Tibetan society, art had been considered a means to illustrate, educate and propagate ideas – apart from its religious function. We all know the so called Socialist Realism not only from The Soviet Imperium, but also from China and other communist countries in Asia: art serves society or ‘art-of-the-state’.


Today we can see the genesis of a new form of Tibetan art that has its roots in traditional Tibetan painting and depicts existential experiences of the artists. In exile, in different countries all over the world, and in Tibet - in the small space between freedom and control.

With Tibetan contemporary art a complete new form of art is born, and there are minor but significant differences between the art created inside Tibet – being more concealed – and the art created outside Tibet – being more outspoken – due to the freedom of expression allowed. As a new phenomenon Tibetan contemporary art is not made for religious, educational or political purposes, but only as an expression of the individual artist, living in a global society. We can consider Tibetan contemporary art as a new avant-garde, or as Tibetan artists sometimes say: the first generation of contemporary Tibetan artists. What makes Tibetan contemporary art so special? It is in many aspects very much different from modern art in general. One of the distinguishing factors is the integrated use of values from ancient wisdom systems like the Tibetan Buddhism. However, defining Tibetan art as a renaissance of Buddhist art would be a mistake. In Tibetan contemporary art we perceive the use of symbols, the forms of the past, as a memory of the world it derives from. Tibetan modern art introduces moreover the reality the artists live in. It represents, in a unique way, the scattered image of what was once united or whole. Simultaneously we see therefore the power of the past, and tomorrow’s dawn. There is a danger in mystifying Tibetan art - as it has been done for decades. I would rather see Tibetan contemporary art as a fluidum between past and future, where the art of traditional thangka painting is interwoven within sharp political statements for freedom or expressions of clear societal observations. As a metaphor we can depict Tibetan contemporary art, as shown in the exhibition Tibet Art Now as a bird, flying on wings of ancient wisdom and future vision, bringing forward images of inspiration for a more peaceful society. The participating western artists in the exhibition have been selected because they represent a kind of art that relates to the true spirit of Tibet and not the kind of art that mystifies or romanticizes Tibet. These images are doorways to other realities - appealing to them, inside all observers. It’s this engagement that drives Tibet Art Now. You are warmly invited to experience this pleasant culture shock. Meet the art, and meet the artists.

Eckart Dissen / FMTC

TIBET ART NOW is an international exhibition of contemporary Tibetan art For obvious reasons Tibetan artists from inside Tibet can’t participate in this exhibition organized in celebration of the visit of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to the Netherlands, but Tibet Art Now is certainly a tribute to them as well.


SIGNS OF TIBET Artist Losang Gyatso was born in Tibet, and grew up in the UK and India. Currently he lives in the US where he has worked as a renowned Art Director for many years. Now he concentrates on his free artwork. His work revolves around the ideas and insights of Tibetan culture, and how he himself relates to them for identity and sustenance. “Tibetans have a saying, that something has ‘shagtsi’, which means it has ‘grease’. Grease is where the taste is in meat, and where the soul is in culture. So no matter what direction my art takes, I want it always to retain the shagtsi of Tibetan culture.” The art works shown in this exhibition are part of the series ‘Signs of Tibet’. The images of the uprisings that erupted across Tibet in spring 2008 appeared on screens, monitors and newspaper pages around the world. The courage and conviction of the Tibetans in peacefully asserting their rights in the face of certain repression, affected millions of people deeply and moved their governments to urge a resolution to the Tibet question. And from amongst all the images, perhaps the videos of the monks from Jokhang Temple in Lhasa and Labrang monastery in Amdo, who sacrificed their own security by speaking what was in the hearts of all Tibetans, remain some of the most haunting and roiling images of pure dissent. Gyatso’s portraits of the monks, printed on metal, suggest ordinary public signs, but where the images pulsate into being and then recede into random dissonant patterns, reflecting both the nature of the highly charged incidences and the state of conflict and uncertainty that pervades Tibet today. 

JOKHANG 4 45 x 45 cm. Mixed media 8



SHAMBALA IN MODERN TIMES Gonkar Gyatso, born in 1961 Lhasa, Tibet, studied Fine Art in China and the UK. In his artwork Gonkar Gyatso reflects on the subtle shifts in identity and belonging caused by constant migration. Having lived in Tibet, China, India and the West, Gyatso’s art proposes insightful statements on cultural hybridity of globalization as well as the change of the world yet to come. His work has been internationally published and exhibited in many galleries and museums, among which The Chinese National Art Gallery (Beijing), the Wereld Museum Rotterdam (Netherlands), the Newark Museum (USA), the Pitt Rivers Museum (Oxford), Queensland Gallery of Modern Art (Australia) and Rossi&Rossi gallery (London). He is the founder of The Sweet Tea House art gallery in London, the first gallery in Europe devoted to showcasing contemporary Tibetan art. He has been selected to take part in the 53rd Venice Biennale 2009.Â

SHAMBALA IN MODERN TIMES 100 x 100 cm. Screen print / Limited edition 10




Karma Phuntsok was born in Tibet in 1952. He grew up in India and he currently lives in Australia. Karma Phuntsok studied drawing and painting through his school years in India. He studied thangka painting with a master of traditional Tibetan thangka painting in Nepal. The themes in Karma Phuntsok’s paintings are based on Tibetan Buddhist deities. His most recent paintings are described as experimental by the Tibetan artist. He interweaves traditional techniques and symbols, with modern inspirations in futuristic expressions. Karma Phuntsok’s paintings are collected worldwide and published in various books and magazines.

THE THREE PRECIOUS JEWELS (WITH MANJUSHRI) 122 x 168 cm. Acrylic on linen 12



DIALOGUE Tashi Norbu, born in 1974, was educated as a traditional Tibetan painter from one of the most respected teachers of traditional Tibetan art, late venerable Sangey Yeshi. Later, Tashi Norbu studied Visual Arts in Ghent, Belgium, since he wanted to decipher Western modern art as well. Tashi Norbu applies a collage technique combining abstract and traditional figurative elements. Currently he is  working in Netherlands at the art studio/gallery at Temple Books Art Gifts in Amsterdam. Tashi Norbu initiated the Tibet Art Movement which organizes as main activities teachings by Tibetan Lamas, Tibetan language courses and Tibetan painting  courses. Tashi Norbu aims to bring together Tibetan artists and to emphasize Tibetan culture in the western world. For the ‘Ticket for Tibet’ festival 2008, Tashi Norbu created several 6x8 metre sized banners with paintings of Buddhas and HH the Dalai Lama.

ENDLESS LIFE 180 x 140 cm. Mixed media on linen 14



PAST, PRESENT, FUTURE Puntsok Tsering was born in 1976 in Duchung, Tibet. He learned to paint in a traditional way in Tibet, and he studied poetry and literature in Lhasa. Here his interest in Tibetan poetry and calligraphy was woken. He started to use poetry in a free style. His work doesn’t only reflect his own process of coming to terms with his personal history, but also with Western and Eastern social realities. Since settling in Germany he has become a kind of wanderer between both worlds, reflected in his collages with photos and calligraphy. For his paintings and collages he uses handmade paper, in his work he uses the contrast between traditional symbols and the signs and forms of modern life.

‘Dü ki Kyambo’, Time wanderer Snow mountain Recollection We offer you an experience Map of the world It’s life Home town Oppression Four directions of space Life in exile A homeless wanderer

TIME WANDERER 42 x 30 cm. Mixed media on paper 16




Tharphen Lingtsang is the son of the late Karma Gardri Painter Gega Lama, author of one of the foremost book on Tibetan painting and iconography “Principles of Tibetan Art”. He was born and brought up in India. Until the death of his father, Tharphen worked and taught with him, creating many unique thangkas, painting frescoes in monasteries and constructing stupas in Nepal and India. In his work he respects tradition using his own clear, fresh style of painting. Since his arrival in the Netherlands, he has been asked to teach in different Buddhist institutes in Europe. Tharphen Lingtsang shows a series of 21 Tara’s in the Tibet Art Now exhibition. Tara, in Tibetan Buddhism, is the highest form of the feminine archetype, the Goddess of Spiritual Transformation, and the highest evolution of this universal aspect of consciousness.

THE 21 TARAS 100 x 67 cm. Painting 18



PRESERVATION Namgyal Dorjee was born in Dehra-Dun, India. He studied oil painting at the Tibetan Homes Foundation Institute and he taught art at the Tibetan Children’s Village school for many years. In 1997, he joined the Education Development and Resource Centre of TCV School, Dharamsala where he worked as an illustrator for school textbooks and storybooks until 2003. The Alexandra David Neel Foundation in Digne, in South France, invited him to create paintings of different Tibetan traditional costumes, monasteries, stupas, deities, landscapes and animals of Tibet. His works are on display at the Foundation’s Museum. Namgyal Dorjee’s work was shown at the Tibet Museum, Dharamsala in December 2005, which was inaugurated by the Kalon Tripa Samdhong Rinpoche (Prime Minister of the Tibetan Government in exile). The show was part of a series of events commemorating the awarding of the Nobel Peace prize to HH the Dalai Lama.

AN ELDERLY MONK PLAYING CYMBAL 58 X 48 cm. Acrylic on canvas 20




Rosemarijn Dissen was fortunate to meet HH the Dalai Lama in 1986 and she travelled to Tibet in 2007. The paintings of Rosemarijn Dissen that are shown in the Tibet Art Now exhibition are inspired by the colours and spirit of Tibet and it’s lucid landscapes, where reality is quite different from what you see. In the art of Rosemarijn Dissen mysterious compositions reflect on the cycle of life and the unknown space between mountains and skies. Rosemarijn Dissen (Amsterdam, 1973) studied at the Constantijn Huygens Art Academy in Kampen. She lives and works in Amsterdam and organizes exhibitions for gallery ArtSite in Haarlem.

POTALA, COLOURED 80 X 100 cm. Acrylic on canvas 22




Elke Hessel’s works are inspired by Tibetan poetic, mythological and philosophical texts. Her central focus is the equality, mutual permeation and interchange ability of profane and sacred themes. Inspired by classical Tibetan texts and fragments of Tibetan daily life Elke Hessel uses a range of media in transparent layers, covered with thin waxed and oiled paper, through which the subject appears as a delusion. It’s an illustration of how hard it is to see things as they really are. Elke Hessel does not only make paintings but also collects and assembles, sometimes in a documented artistic performance. She lives and works in Germany and is editor of Chökor, TibethausJournal and she works for the Tibet House in Frankfurt.

AM I IN DREAM 30 x 20 cm, pair Mixed media 24




Photographer Paul Hilkens (The Netherlands) first portrayed HH the Dalai Lama in 2000 in Dharamsala. Paul Hilken’s interest in Tibetan culture made him want to contribute to the preservation of this culture trough his photographic work. He initiated the ‘Ticket for Tibet’ festival (first edition in 2005, last in 2008 with over 10.000 visitors). When asked to comment on his photographic work in Tibet he declares that he sincerely hopes that not only the colourful aspects of the Tibetan culture will stand out but also the spiritual and mysterious ones. His Tibetan landscapes also carry an environmental message. It’s Paul’s wish that by showing the beauty of the threatened Tibetan environment, people will become aware of what we risk losing forever.

RUNNING GIRL 50 x 50 cm. Photograph 26




Tibet Art Movement Foundation brought to light thanks to an initiative of the Tibetan Artist Tashi Norbu and to the work and dedication of many aims to: •• •• •• •• •• •• •• •• •• •• ••

Raise awareness for the preservation and development of the Tibetan culture and identity Contribute to the development of Tibetan contemporary art Establish a cooperation with Tibetan contemporary artists living in Tibet Promote cooperation among several artists inspired by the Tibetan culture Organize exhibitions of Tibetan artists, possibly in combination with artists inspired by Tibet and coming from other countries Organize Tibetan cultural and/or Tibetan Buddhist events Organize, develop and carry out educational programs like Tibetan painting lessons, and workshops, both for artists and non artists, Lectures on Tibetan art and Tibetan culture Tibetan language courses for Tibetans and non Tibetans Lectures and teachings on Tibetan Buddhism

and all this to send a powerful message of peace and goodwill into the world A rich cultural heritage forms the base of the work of Tibetan artists today, inside and outside Tibet. Contemporary Tibetan artists are searching for a way that could lead them from the ancient Tibetan Buddhist metaphors to a form of free art able to challenge today’s world. On their way these artists do not let go of their roots; not even when they leave the rooftop of the world for India or the West. The rich, mystical atmosphere reflected in their work springs from a stream of old traditions and sometimes harsh circumstances. Founding Board of Tibet Art Movement Foundation: Tashi Norbu, Paul Hilkens and Simonetta Ronconi www.tibetartmovement.com 29


TIBET ART NOW / ON THE THRESHOLD OF A NEW FUTURE has been kindly supported by: •• •• •• •• •• •• •• •• •• •• ••

Amsterdams Fonds voor de Kunst Stichting Bezoek Dalai Lama Nederland TicketForTibet Foundation for Meeting with Tibetan Culture Art meets Science and Spirituality in a Changing Economy Campagne bureau Booij, Klusman en van Bruggen Eyes on media / Visual design Noëlle Sterk Event- & Projectmanagement Temple – Book Art & Gifts NV Stadsgenoot Amsterdam Gallery ArtSite

LINKS: •• •• •• ••

Mechak Art Gallery: http://www.mechak.org/ Tibet Art Movement: http://www.tibetartmovement.com/ Tibet Art Now: http://www.tibetartmovement.com/tan Temple Book Art & Gifts: www.temple-online.nl

Editors Rosemarijn Dissen Louise Thomas Design Nynke Kuipers Production Stichting Ontmoeting met Tibetaanse Cultuur Foundation for Meeting with Tibetan Culture TibetaanseCultuur@gmail.com ©Tibet Art Now / Tibet Art Movement, Amsterdam, 2009 info@tibetartmovement.com ISBN 978-90-72845-04-7 Published by E=mc² publishers 30


Tibet Art Now On the Threshold of a New Future

Exhibition Contemporary Tibetan Art

Catalogue 32

Profile for Eckart  Dissen

Tibet Art Now - Catalogue  

Tibet Art Now - On the treshold of a new future. Exhibition of Contemporary Tibetan Art. Amsterdam 3 June - 6 July 2009

Tibet Art Now - Catalogue  

Tibet Art Now - On the treshold of a new future. Exhibition of Contemporary Tibetan Art. Amsterdam 3 June - 6 July 2009