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Tradition Transformed: Tibetan Artists Respond

The Crow Collection presents an exhibition of artists' responses to transforming traditions in Tibet.

May 21, 2011 12:00am to September 11, 2011 12:00am

Tibet is a place contested in contemporary imagination as well as politics.  Gone are illusions of Tibet as Shangri-la, described by James Hilton in his novel of 1933--a utopian society cut off from the rest of the world and little touched by the corrosion of time.  New illusions of a secular modern society that retains its distinctive Tibetan culture have arisen in the Autonomous Region of Tibet (TAR), part of the Peoples’ Republic of China.  In 1950, when the newly formed PRC exercised dominion over the Tibetan plateau, Tibet resisted. Clashes in 1959 reduced the population through violence and exodus of Tibetans to India and Nepal. Destruction by roving bands of Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution (1966 and 1977) further decimated the buildings and societies based on lamaseries.  In the decades that followed, China undertook of economic and cultural restructuring of the TAR. Chinese investment and development in the Tibet Autonomous Region has also targeted cultural shifts.  A high-speed train now crosses the rooftop of the world, carrying as many as 2,000 passengers a day, and by 2015, Tibet’s second largest city will be connected to line. International tourism thrives: television cameras and the internet expose the temperament of modern Tibet to the world. 

Tradition Transformed offers vantages on this rapidly changing ground from eight artists with ties to traditional Tibetan painting.  Four of the artists were born in Tibet, three in neighboring Nepal, and one in India.  Only one among them currently resides in Tibet.  All locate their artistic challenge and response both within the Tibetan tradition and on a world stage.  The eldest among them was born in 1961, the youngest, in 1981.  They serve, as artists often do in times of cultural upheaval as agents of transformation and sensitive litmus of what

The exhibition was organized by the Rubin Museum of Art (RMA) in New York City, which opened in 2004 to focus on historical art of the Himalayas—a rich and relatively unexplored dimension of Asian culture, producing art for Buddhist and Bon patrons in the form of murals, paintings, sculptures, ritual objects, and manuscripts, along with an extensive literary tradition.  The traditional word for art in Tibetan is Lab “to draw a deity.” Tradition Transformed is the first foray by RMA into contemporary Tibetan art, and recognition of the continuing distinctive imprint of a long tradition.

The approximately twenty works of art on view, bring features of traditional Tibetan art into view even as they are questioned, claimed, and transformed by contemporary artists:  religion as artistic stimulus;  training in methods and styles particular to a workshop and master; water based pigments and earth and mineral colors; particular formats and imagery.  This selection of works of art responding to the transformation of tradition among contemporary artists is an acknowledged first foray by the Rubin into Himalayan contemporary art.  For a wider public less familiar with what is traditional Himalayan art,  this focus is instructive not only in showcasing active agents of transformation in the present, but also as a point of  departure in either temporal direction—into the past or towards the future of Himalayan culture.

The artists represented in Tradition Transformed in Dallas are Dedron, born in 1976; Gonkar Gyatso, born in 1961; Losang Gyatso, born in 1953; Kesang Lamdark, born in 1963;  Tenzin Norbu, born in 1971; Tenzing Rigdol, born in 1982; Tsherin Sherpa, born in 1968;  and Penba Wangdu, born in 1969.

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