For the second edition of the contemporary art fair ART14 London, Rossi & Rossi will present Our Clouded Hills, an exhibition of paintings by three Tibetan artists: Gade, Tenzing Rigdol and Tsherin Sherpa. Their works incorporate traditional Tibetan and Buddhist symbolism and techniques to comment on issues faced by Tibet, its inhabitants, and the Tibetan Diaspora.
Our Clouded Hills, is taken from a short poem that forms part of the preface to William Blake’s epic,Milton a Poem. Beginning ‘And did those feet in ancient time’, the work is best known as the stirring anthem ‘Jerusalem’ with music by Sir Hubert Parry, which many English regard as their unofficial national anthem. For the visionary artist William Blake, 18th century England’s pastoral hills were being obscured and turned into a satanic hell, awaiting a divine saviour, by the output of industrialisation: fumes and pollution. The poem is also a rallying call to change: ‘I will not flee from mental fight, nor shall my sword sleep in my hand, till we have built Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant Land.’ The works produced by these contemporary Tibetan artists present a similar view of Tibet, its mountainous landscape and its people: affected by changes in climate, clouded by pollution or even set ablaze. Today, Tibet’s landscape and culture are being concealed and encroached upon by a multitude of factors: aside from the rapid industrialisation and globalisation of the territory, Tibet is also now subject to an escalating military presence, harsh censorship and increasing control over the movements of its residents. In the face of these changes, within recent years, Tibet has also witnessed a sharp increase in self-immolations: according to the International Campaign for Tibet, there have been some 125 reported cases in Tibet and in China since February 2009, 124 of which have occurred within the past three years.
It is to this crisis and these changes that contemporary Tibetan artists respond. Lhasa-based artist Gade(b. 1971, Lhasa) presents enchanted Tibetan landscapes shrouded in mist and executed in the jewel-toned mineral and vegetable pigments usually reserved for traditional thangka painting. Amongst the mountains however are silhouetted figures lifted from advertisements, and their execution in gold leaf, a material normally reserved for deities and important religious figures, equates them to the divine. According to Gade, his works aim to ‘show the viewer a Tibet undergoing great changes under the pressures of globalisation. Modernization has redefined Tibet and the people who live there; it has also corrupted people’s minds and taken away happiness’.
Paintings and collages by Tenzing Rigdol (b. 1982, Kathmandu) incorporate traditional materials such as silk brocade and hand blocked scripture, as well as traditional Tibetan Buddhist iconography to address conflicts faced by Tibetans today. In On a Distant Land, the traditionally styled and precisely posed bodhisattva is constructed out of tongues of flames, a clear allusion to the recent self-immolations of Tibetans around the world.
Tsherin Sherpa’s (b. 1968, Kathmandu) paintings address the complex identity of the Tibetan Diaspora, scattered around the world and severed from their cultural roots. His works present Tibetan protector spirits within a modern context, charged with looking over a new generation of Tibetan children who will grow up disconnected from their homeland. In his Golden Child/Black Smoke series faces of children are set amongst wisps of smoke and menacing silhouettes. Surrounded by their protector deities, however, the children gaze out defiantly at the viewer; beneath their patchy and darkened skin is burnished gold, suggesting their hope for the future.