Lost Children of Heaven I, 10 Jun – 3 Jul, 2013
By Ian Findlay-Brown
Over the past decade, young contemporary Mongolian artists have gradually fashioned their own creative voices. These voices have developed a tone and content very different from that of earlier generations for whom political and cultural constraints were commonplace. Uncertainty has given way to self-confidence; fear has been replaced by liberation, and artistic timidity has been supplanted by a willingness to take creative risks. Yet as such things refashion artistic life in ways that were barely imaginable three decades ago, now each passing year produces new political and cultural questions as well as unsettling social dilemmas within Mongolia’s rapidly developing society that demand the attention of artists.
The seven young artists in this exhibition entitled Lost Children of Heaven are addressing some of the more uncomfortable truths on the opening up of a formerly closed society. The downside of rapid modernization, economic inequality, unemployment, alcoholism, violence, alienation, and the pollution and degradation of the environment are among the most pressing.
Personal and public alienation are the themes that lie at the very core of the art of both Bayarmagnai Avirmed and Lkhagvadorj Enkhbat. Their striking, bold visions are uncomfortable to the senses as they speak directly to us. The worlds of which these artists speak are piercing, raw, and relentlessly unforgiving for alienation is a profoundly painful matter at any time and in any place. People are frequently estranged from each other and society by anonymous actions. It is often merely due to the reality that international business and politics have seemingly suddenly altered course, sweeping aside all those who simply just can’t keep up. Business and politics are anonymous machines: individuals are but tools to be used until they can be used no more. Bayarmagnai observes personal alienation by examining himself closely through his art. His large bulbous faces, as in works such as Thought Interrupted and Epiphany are not, strictly speaking, self-portraits. Each face or action here represents a thought, a tortured reaction to the world as the character attempts to fit into society or to come to terms with it. The art of Lkhagvadorj Enkhbat, on the other hand, is an objective look at those whose worlds have collapsed. Lkhagvadorj’s characters are the homeless, the drunk, those dispossessed often through no fault of their own. Yet there are still dreams even amidst the broken urban promises. In Lkhagvadorj’s beautifully observed I Dream of Having A Horse a lost homeless nomad man is tethered to his past through a line to a large piece of horsehide. In Needs Are Fulfilled, a drunk lies stretched out on the ground, his arm reaching out to the garbage around him, a plastic Nomin bag full of rubbish, the sad promises of the consumerist world.
This deep sense of sadness and alienation is also present in dramatically realized works by Nandin-Erdene Budzagd, Orkhontuul Banzragch, and Naidandorj Enkjbaatar. Nandin-Erdene’s visions of children are heartrending, while Orkhontuul’s view of humanity, as in Blind Faith is anonymous, a person facing away from the viewer or a nude female in Laborous Thoughts, whose head is swarmed by angry, hungry pigeons that remind one of scenes from Alfred Hitchcock’s film The Birds (1963). Naidandorj Enkhbaatar’s characters strike one as if they are actors in odd makeup or clowns that just have emerged from a circus. But these clown-like people such as in Red, Blue, and Yellow (colors of the Mongolian national flag and the various political parties that now pepper the political scene) are not meant as fun, but rather as an indictment of Mongolia’s rapidly changing political life. Each of these artists’ works is touched by a strange sense of the surreal, worlds that we think we know but are hesitant to accept.
In the art of Uuriintuya Dagvasambuu and Nomin Bold we come face to face with the quiet desperation of the domestic world and the emotional life of individual women and families. In Uuriintuya’s art the world appears quite simple—views of personal identity, the desire to fly away, dreams of freedom expressed quite erotically, and the utensils and objects of everyday life. But it is far from simple as a close look at the muted-colored art of Uuriintuya shows. There is visceral tension at work. The anonymous world of Uuriintuya is far from the complex and highly symbolic world that Nomin Bold paints. There is a formality to the color and the geometry to Nomin’s art that is not present in the others’ paintings. Even as she discusses the worlds of good and evil, in her beautifully realized figures in the double-portrait—one in red and one in blue—entitled Unconditioned Need for Harmony, one is always aware of a formal tone. Here, and in Unwanted Freedom, one sees just how carefully arranged and how well observed her paintings are. In Unconditioned Need for Harmony, one sees just how effective her Klimt-like influence is suggesting a certain malevolence and in Unwanted freedom just how well she mixes the modern and the traditional and the symbolic and real as well as dream. The structures of which these artists speak may appear solid but they are in reality often held together tenuously, either by the tailor’s pin as in Unwanted Freedom or by sweetness and quiet beauty of a flower such as the Edelweiss.
Through these artists’ recent works it is clear that they are unafraid to paint from the heart, to paint with a shrewd eye with which to see beyond the surface. These painters are not interested in surface or sleight of hand or the sweet words of the politicians, which is why their visions are often uncomfortable to those for whom any challenge to the status quo is anathema.
Copyright © 2013 Ian Findlay-Brown