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<-Back to WTN Archives Avant-garde artists strive to express rage and aspirations of modern Tibet (AFP)
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World Tibet Network News

Published by the Canada Tibet Committee

Monday, August 22, 2005

1. Avant-garde artists strive to express rage and aspirations of modern Tibet (AFP)

LHASA, Tibet, 22 Aug, (AFP) - Hidden from view among the temples and souvenir shops of old Lhasa,
a quiet revolution is taking place, and Pema Dolkar is proud to be part of it.

The 25-year-old women is a member of a small, but dedicated group of aspiring Tibetan artists who
strive to break free from tradition as they seek new paths for their ancient Himalayan culture.

"Traditional Tibetan art focused exclusively on religion," said Pema Dolkar, standing inside the
Gedun Choephel Artists' Guild, an exhibition hall that also serves as a meeting place for the

"Modern Tibetan art, by contrast, allows for a variety of themes to be explored," she said,
standing next to a portrait of Mona Lisa wearing a traditional Tibetan dress.

This may be the age of the cellphone and the Internet, but suggesting changes or even modest
adjustments to Tibet's ancient culture is not easy, especially not if you are a girl.

Pema Dolkar's mother initially prohibited her from painting, as she herself had come under
pressure from intrusive neighbors who said it was not a suitably feminine pursuit.

"I sat down with my mom and explained to her how important it was for me to go on," said Pema
Dolkar. "And now she understands and accepts that I simply have to paint."

Tibet's capital Lhasa is a hallmark of traditional Tibetan culture, attracting thousands of
visitors every year hoping to see surviving examples of the region's ancient art.

"Many outsiders have this idea that Tibetans should stick to their original culture, and shouldn't
change too much. I don't think that's fair," said Gade, a young artist and one of the leaders of
the Gedun Choephel circle.

"Tibetans also have a right to try something new. You can't treat us as an exotic species that you
come and look at when you have time," he said.

Lhasa is home to a thriving community of about 200 artists -- half of them ethnic Tibetan, the
other half mostly from China's Han majority -- who are trying to push the frontier of cultural

The outside world is now waking up to this modern face of Tibet, however slowly.

"Tibetan painting is an emerging field of contemporary art and the work of artists in Tibet and in
exile is attracting increasing interest in the West," said Kate Saunders, the Washington-based
spokeswoman for International Campaign for Tibet.

At the moment, Lhasa's only center of modern art is the Gedun Choepel Artists' Guild, but that may

"Some artists who are even younger than we have started organizing similar activities," said
33-year-old Gade, who like many Tibetans has just one name.

"It's becoming more active. I think in a few years, Tibet will have a much larger art scene."

Gade was originally trained in traditional Tibetan art, but eventually felt that the methods
handed down from previous generations were far from sufficient if he were to express his own
innermost feelings.

"In the past when I put too much emphasis on traditional and religious themes, I felt I couldn't
really do what I wanted. I felt that I was more attracted to Tibet's current situation," he said.

Rather than seeking a complete break with the past, Gade's paintings attempt to bridge the old
world of Tibet with the globalized world of today.

He paints Buddha images that include references to Hollywood movies, sentences in English and
Russian, and even short SMS messages.

"We've entered into a fast-paced visual epoch. People no longer read thick books. We're in the era
of fast food. Everything has to happen fast," he said.

"Some may feel it's very childish and superficial, but at the same time it's a culture of great

However revolutionary the new art may seem at first sight, it can be argued that the urge for
change is deeply rooted in Tibetan tradition.

"It's a basic tenet of Buddhist thought that everything is in a constant state of flux," said

"Nothing will stay the same. There has to be change. It may not be the kind of change Westerners
like, but it will be the change that Tibetans themselves want," he said.

Articles in this Issue:
  1. Avant-garde artists strive to express rage and aspirations of modern Tibet (AFP)
  2. Rival child lamas grow up and into political storm (Reuters)
  3. Tahoe/Reno International Film Festival to Screen Documentary about Humanitarian-Award Winning Doctor
  4. Frenzied Rutgers readies to welcome Dalai Lama
  5. Tibetan capital tells a tale of two cities (VS)
  6. The rage of the lamas
  7. Showcase of Tibetan films
  8. Hu Jintao will make talks with Canadians a priority on his first visit to North America (VS)
  9. Tibet's cause through Tibetan eyes (TT)

Other articles this month - WTN Index - Mail the WTN-Editors

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