Contemporary Tibetan Art: A Unified Art Movement, Political Activism, or Something Else Entirely?

For my research project, I plan on discovering if the current outpouring of non-traditional art by Tibetans both within Tibet and abroad constitutes a unified art movement with similar goals and themes. I plan to collect research on a variety of contemporary Tibetan artists and categorize their work by their style, influences, materials, and overall mission. I will use articles, exhibition reviews, artists’ personal websites, first-hand accounts, as well as my own interpretations in order to understand, de-code, and relate each piece of art.

I’ve already begun my research with great success. For example, last weekend I traveled to SUNY New Paltz in order to see an exhibition currently on view at their art museum displaying a collection of contemporary Tibetan artists. I also had the pleasure to observe a talk by one of the artists, Kesang Lamdark, as well as personally interview him afterwards. His answers to my questions as well as the artist talks will provide fantastic primary resources to back up my conclusions. I was surprised to learn straight from his mouth that he has no problem with the commodification of Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism in the West. His own dichotomous background (an ethnic Tibetan who grew up in Switzerland) allows him to more readily reconcile with how these two distinct cultures interact. I perhaps should have realized just how globalized and metropolitan Lamdark was when he first pulled out his pack of “American Spirit” cigarettes.

I hope that I will be able to classify the entire collection of art as a unified contemporary Tibetan art movement. Many scholars before (though the field is still extremely small at this time) have tried to contrast contemporary Tibetan art with traditional Tibetan art as well as separate Tibetan artists working within Tibet from those Tibetan artists working in the diaspora. I hope to be able to bridge this gap with real evidence and comparisons. I will also be dissecting common themes that are often seen in contemporary Tibetan art, such as a focus on the influx state of Tibetan identity or political commentary of the Chinese government. By analyzing these themes, symbolic imagery, and artistic style, I hope to add to the scholastic knowledge of contemporary Tibetan art while also advancing its understanding, notoriety, and acceptance.

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