About THL > Introductions > Contemporary Tibetan Art Resources > Contemporary Tibetan Art Intro
"Modern art in Tibet never seems to relate to the modern art movement in the outside world, seldom even participating in any contemporary art program in mainland China. Therefore, few people know about the modern art of Tibet. It is like a strange creature, itself grown and developing without preparation, but it has just happened like the mingling of the red and blue neon lights of the nightclubs with the butter lamps and the Potala palace with the plastic evergreen coconut trees at its foot.
Contrary to most outsiders’ expectations and romantic fantasies depicted in the tourist souvenir oil paintings, Gade’s description of Lhasa captures the artists’ honest grappling with authenticity. Gade says rather than depict "the myth of ancient Tibet that you can find in textbooks, of the legendary land of magic that people talk so much about,…what I really wanted was to paint my Tibet, the one I grew up with and belong to."
Historically, artists in Tibet exclusively produced Buddhist iconography in thangkas, murals and statues. This began to change in Lhasa in the 1930s and 1940s, when the British introduction of photography stimulated experimentation with realism and perspective. After the creation of the People’s Republic of China, some Tibetan artists were trained in socialist realism in Beijing. In these schools after the 1980s, western art history was introduced, and experimentation with artistic styles and mediums mushroomed. A generation of young artists brought new ideas and techniques back to Tibet, stimulating modern creative output that still continues. Simultaneously, a revitalization of traditional Tibetan methods was underway. Today, training in and markets for traditional religious painting is thriving, co-existing with the exploding tourist demand for romantic portraits of exotic nomads, women and children in rich oil colors. Less visible in Lhasa than the souvenir and thangka painters’ ubiquitous shops, it is the artists of the Gendun Choephel Gallery and the faculty of Tibet University’s Art Academy who have quietly emerged in the last decade to garner international art critics’ favor. These contemporary experimenters are creating art to express their own experience of modern Tibet.
"My generation has grown up with thangka painting, martial arts, Hollywood movies, Mickey Mouse, Charlie Chaplin, Rock ’n’ Roll and McDonalds. We still don’t know where the spiritual homeland is - New York, Beijing, or Lhasa. We wear jeans and T-shirts and when we drink a Budweiser it is only occasionally that we talk about "Buddhahood".
The development of Tibetan modern art is difficult from the very beginning, but it is good from another point of view, because artists can closely examine themselves and hold their own interest in an age of information explosion. Perhaps what is most conventionally perceived as Modern Art does not exist as such in Tibet; or maybe its existence is simply a figment of contemporary Tibetan artists’ imagination. But what is important is that these artists are recording the transmigration of a civilization and a disappearing myth."
The artists on this website are concerned with their culture in transition; life in Lhasa and multifaceted Tibet is their inspiration. Their works utilize various mediums to express their thoughts and feelings, without becoming so personal as to render their work irrelevant to a collective cultural identity. "We like to keep up with the times and trends, but we also respect and value the traditional aspects of our unique cultural heritage." In this way, they contribute to the creation of a uniquely Tibetan modern culture.
All quotations from: Gade. 2005. "Modern Art in Tibet and the Gedun Choephel Artists’ Guild" in Visions from Tibet: A brief survey of contemporary painting. Edited by Ian Alsop and Fabio Rossi. London: Anna Marie Rossi and Fabio Rossi Publications.