Hong Kong—Gonkar Gyatso, Tibet’s pre-eminent contemporary artist whose personal, political and often humorous work bridges Eastern and Western culture, will present his solo exhibition, Pop Phraseology, opening 18 September 2014, in Hong Kong at Pearl Lam Galleries.
With a long interest in material and pop culture, Gyatso often combines references to traditional Tibetan life with references to the global mass-media culture that is constantly interacting with, and shaping, our current perspectives of cultural identity. By confronting the undeniable bond between his homeland’s religion and politics, Gyatso throws into question what is considered traditional, while addressing the many new cultural hybrid identities to which globalisation has given rise.
In his new series of works, Gyatso has turned his focus toward phrases found in popular culture. These phrases, generated out of social or political need, are often temporal. In making them the focus of his work, Gyatso tries to create a tension between the aesthetic attention he gives his work, and the implicit meanings of the words. As in previous work, Gyatso seeks not to project a specific idea or agenda. Each piece serves as his own meditation on what it means to be living in a particular place at a particular time.
Gyatso characteristically juxtaposes the Buddha, a figure of tolerance, and the geometry required for traditional Thangka paintings with Western iconography to deliver his own vision of the coexistence of many aspects of human society—whether they be political and social debate, differences in culture, race, women’s rights, human rights, globalisation or the environment. The Buddha figure in Gyatso’s work is a representation of cultural elements and his Tibetan identity, rather than any religious elements, while also serving as a beautiful form which he manipulates with his unique visual language of stickers and ephemera, magazine and newspaper clippings, as well as Chinese and Tibetan characters, to address a multiplicity of subjects.
Gyatso is inspired by urban spaces, where people and ideas coexist and sometimes clash, and in his collages he aims to capture the juxtapositions of everyday life, using a range of materials which reflect the mass culture of the 21st century. He predominately uses stickers, collected from around the world, as well as of his own design, to bring equal attention to the mundane as well as the extraordinary. The continued appropriation and re-appropriation of media-saturated environments, as well as the Buddha form, illustrate his interest in omnipresence, while at the same time cast an ambiguous perspective on the pieties embraced by each. Each work becomes just as much about the viewer’s own experience, looking and interpreting, as it is a personal expression. The paintings and sculpture included in Pop Phraseology can be seen as the culmination of 10 years of thinking on themes of hegemony, geo-political conflict, and mass culture, as well as the role of culture and tradition as society forges ahead.
“Gyatso is deeply moved by the need to preserve and celebrate his own culture and just as artists like Judy Chicago, who seeks to make the vernacular of womanhood part of our discourse, or Glenn Ligon, who works to talk about Black Identity in America, or Yinka Shonibare, who uses the textiles of his heritage to address issues of colonialism, Gyatso inserts Buddhist and Tibetan iconography into our daily lives. They all ask, where is our place? What is our role? And, where are we going from here? It is a fascinating and inspiring discourse to be engaged in.” Pearl Lam, Founder of Pearl Lam Galleries