Tibetan Modernism By Soon, Simon
The emergence of Tibetan modernism strongly reflects the social and political changes that the “roof of the world” underwent throughout the 20th century. Central to this process were attempts by artists to negotiate between Tibet’s Buddhist tradition and modern thought. Gendun Choephel is largely recognized today as the pioneering figure in Tibetan modern art. Following the Communist takeover of Tibet and the establishment of an exile government in Dharamsala, artistic movements developed both within Tibet and in India. Increasingly, a diasporic and global community of Tibetan artists based largely in the West has also gained prominence. Many modern artists saw themselves as creative innovators, moving away from Tibet’s scroll- and mural-painting discourse, yet at the same time also drawing on this unique stock of religious iconographies to forge expressions of Tibetan modernity. In more recent times, artists from the Sweet Tea Artists’ Association generation have also adopted more contemporary artistic vernaculars in their art practice. These artists, among them Gongkar Gyatso and Tsering Nyandak, have also gained international followings. Though many of these artists are based overseas and belong to the exile community, the longing for homeland, the desire to express sensitive political issues through their art practices, and the search for a Tibetan identity through their art remain central to their artistic explorations.