Gonkar Gyatso

Family Album

My niece, Ciyang and her fiancé, Xi Xi 
Photos courtesy of Pearl Lam Galleries and Studio GG
My niece, Ciyang and her fiancé, Xi Xi Photos courtesy of Pearl Lam Galleries and Studio GG
30 MAR 2017
by

On the occasion of Art Basel in Hong Kong at “Encounters”, an original platform dedicated to present large-scale sculptural installations and performances transcending the traditional art fair stand, Pearl Lam Galleries is going to present “Family Album”, a new work by London-based Tibetan artist Gonkar Gyatso. A work that investigates “changing representations of Tibetan-ness in an increasingly interconnected, globalized world.”

“These photographs are largely based on my family in Lhasa. (Although I hope to eventually include family in Nepal, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada.) While the poses of each individual change with each costume, it’s fascinating to notice the subtle shifts in expression and posture that they each take on. Are they based on social constructions of self, a mere simulacrum, or do they come from somewhere deeply authentic? With the help of the Tibetan photographer Zhadui, I hope I was able to capture these subtle psychological shifts. I am interested in how contemporary culture is tightly linked with the fashion and pop culture of China and the West. With these photographs, I hope to challenge stereotypes of what it means to be 'Tibetan' and at the same time explore how this portrayal of ourselves affects our own concept of ‘self’ said Gyatso of 'Family Album'.”

“Family Album” is a series of photographs examining the complexity of “identity” particularly from a Tibetan cultural perspective. In fact since 50 years Tibetan people have been looking for a pacific cohabitation respectful to their culture as well history and tradition after the Chinese occupation of Tibet and the Dalai Lama’s escape in India. Gyatso composes the photographs as a family album revealing the different and complex roles of each family member. Originally created for Emory University’s Michael C. Carlos Museum in Atlanta, Georgia this series of photographs is in a wide sense related to another work created by Gyatso: “My Identity.” It was a series of self-photographs showing the artist costumed as a Tibetan artist from different periods: dressed in a traditional Tibetan robe painting a Buddha or in a Chinese Communist uniform from the Cultural Revolutionary period painting a picture of Mao or as a Tibetan artist in London painting an abstract work showing him as he is today. “My Identity” and “Family Album” are two simple but powerfully artworks with a stronger political and social message related to the life of many Tibetans watching their culture and traditions be absorbed.

However even if created with reference to the artist family and the condition of Tibetan people these artworks portray universal pattern of contemporary human behavior. In fact according to a globalization-oriented view we are experiencing a multicultural and global world where borders are dematerialized, becoming flexible and permeable as a result of a tendency to openness, the exchange, the inclusion. From a different point of view (a point of view that prefers to be local instead of global) there are new boundaries that add or replace the previous ones as a result of a closure strategy in a world that changes too quickly. For contemporary thinkers today it is really difficult to build an identity that is similar to a process of mixing different elements that we can manage and modify according to different situations. Often we mix really different elements and this mixture creates a temporary equilibrium subject to changeable alterations. According to the French sociologist Touraine we face the real paradox of our society: when the economy is going to be global, the identity ceases to go toward the future turning itself to the past, to an ahistorical desire. For this reason even if Gyatso’s artistic practice is often related to Tibetan culture it is really a way to connect different elements: East and West, public and private, high and pop culture, religion and politics, etc. “Is there a common thread that defines a culture’s identity? Or is the true nature of identity a bit ambiguous? Too complex, too personal, too political to really understand or define. I’ve always been interested in the grey areas; where language often seems to fail us. Art has a way of weaving together complex ideas and emotions and presenting them in a relatable way” said Gonkar Gyatso.

We don’t know if we are really moving towards a “borderless society” that is a global society without political borders. But we hope we are moving to a society that respects cultural borders that are cultural differences because we all will be closed not living in a world without borders but in a world that respect differences. And toward this goal we really need artistic practice like Gonkar Gyatso’s one that connects East and West, religion and pop culture creating masterpieces portraying a trans-cultural harmony. For Gonkar Gyatso art is a tool of social transformation and regeneration and we have to consider his practice as a key place in determining what the course of our societies future should be.