For the second edition of the contemporary art fair ART14 London, Rossi & Rossi will present Our Clouded Hills, an exhibition of paintings by three Tibetan artists: Gade, Tenzing Rigdol and Tsherin Sherpa. Their works incorporate traditional Tibetan and Buddhist symbolism and techniques to comment on issues faced by Tibet, its inhabitants, and the Tibetan Diaspora.
The phrase Our Clouded Hills is taken from an untitled poem by the 18th century visionary artist William Blake which appeared in the preface to his epic, Milton, a Poem. It begins, ‘And did those feet in ancient time’, and is best known as the words to the stirring anthem ‘Jerusalem’ with music by Sir Hubert Parry, regarded by many as the unofficial English national anthem. For Blake, England was a promised land awaiting a divine saviour, whose pastoral landscape was being obscured and turned into a satanic hell by pollution from the early industrialization in which Britain led the world. But far from being a lament, the poem is also a rallying cry to change: ‘I will not cease from Mental Fight, nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand, Till we have built Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant Land.’
The works in this show present a similar view of Tibet, its mountainous landscape and its people: clouded by pollution, affected by changes in climate or even set ablaze. Today, Tibet’s landscape and culture are being concealed and eroded by a multitude of factors. Aside from the rapid industrialization and globalization of the territory, Tibet is also subject to an escalating military presence, harsh censorship and increasing control over the movements of its residents. In the face of these changes, within recent years, Tibet has witnessed a sharp increase in self-immolations: according to the International Campaign for Tibet, there have been some 124 cases within the past three years, with the total rising as the protests continue. It is to this crisis and these changes that Tibetan artists respond.
Lhasa-based artist Gade (b. 1971, Lhasa) presents enchanted Tibetan landscapes shrouded in mist and executed in the jewel-toned mineral and vegetable pigments usually reserved for traditional thangka painting. Amongst the mountains however are silhouetted figures lifted from advertisements, but the use of gold leaf, a material normally reserved for deities and important religious figures, equates them to the divine. According to Gade, his works aim to ‘show the viewer a Tibet undergoing great changes under the pressures of globalisation. Modernization has redefined Tibet and the people who live there; it has also corrupted people’s minds and taken away happiness’.
Paintings and collages by Tenzing Rigdol (b. 1982, Kathmandu) incorporate traditional materials such as silk brocade and hand blocked scripture, as well as traditional Tibetan Buddhist iconography to address conflicts faced by Tibetans today. In On a Distant Land, the traditionally styled and precisely posed bodhisattva is constructed out of tongues of flames, a clear allusion to the recent self-immolations of Tibetans around the world.
Tsherin Sherpa’s (b. 1968, Kathmandu) paintings address the complex identity of the Tibetan Diaspora, scattered around the world and severed from their cultural roots. His works present Tibetan protector spirits within a modern context, charged with looking over a new generation of Tibetan children who will grow up disconnected from their homeland. In his Golden Child/Black Clouds series faces of children are set amongst wisps of smoke and menacing silhouettes. Surrounded by their protector deities, however, the children gaze out defiantly at the viewer; beneath their patchy and darkened skin is burnished gold, suggesting their hope for the future.