Recap: Contemporary Tibetan Art & Remen Chopra

Remen Chopra’s solo at Sakshi, “Memoirs of Tanaz and Vimla”, was up at Sakshi in March. Volte’s “Beyond the Mandala” was supposed to have closed on April 6. In actual fact, however, the show was shut earlier. Not sure why. That’s how backdated this post is and out of touch I am.

On the plus side, given I saw these shows soon after they opened and I’m writing about them now and how dodgy my memory is, this one’s not going to be very long.

First up, Volte’s “Beyond the Mandala”.

The exhibition was organised in collaboration with the London gallery, Rossi & Rossi. The artists are all Tibetans, mostly living in exile, and this is the first time we’re seeing Buddhist art that isn’t traditional religious art. That’s the good part. The not-so-good part was that of the four artists, two presented boringly predictable imagery. Tserin Sherpa and Tenzing Rigdol make pretty paintings and collages. There are references to Buddha and elements from Buddhist imagery in Sherpa’s paintings. Rigdol seems to be trying entirely too hard to project ironic cool in his collages, like the one in which the silhouette of the Buddha is filled with pictures of Bollywood actors cut out from magazines. It’s not that these works didn’t look nice but they were banal. Think of that old word association game. Tibetan –> Buddhism. India –> Bollywood. Tibetan + India –> Buddhism + Bollywood. Insert yawn. The point of “Beyond the Mandala” is supposedly to de-romanticise Tibet but the works of these two artists don’t really do that. There are touches of sacrilege but it feels as though they’ve been added only to make the artist look dashingly cool.

Gade and Palden Weinreb, on the other hand, were much more interesting. Gade also takes his inspiration from the traditional Buddhist art of thangkas but adds pop art to the mix. The result is quite fantastic. From a distance, Gade’s paintings look like old thangkas. They’re intricate, the lines and colours are delicate, and everything is in a neat structure. Then you look closer, and there are vicious little jibes painted in there. Mickey Mouse skulls that breathe fire, Buddha dressed like Chairman Mao, fangs, flower-like things that reminded me of Venus flytraps. Gade uses the lines and styles of traditional imagery, like the yab-yum figures, but fills them in with very contemporary detailing. Once your eye has started picking up on Gade’s motifs, the paintings seem to radiate an angry darkness. Interestingly, Gade is the only one of the artists who is still based in Lhasa.

In complete contrast to Gade’s paintings are New York-based Palden Weinreb’s drawings. While Gade uses browns and blacks, Weinreb draws on white paper and uses graphite. He meticulously draws patterns — some sort of shamanistic reference perhaps? — using finer than fine lines. The precision of his line drawing gives his work a strangely scientific air, as though this is a diagram of something. The works are hypnotic. Stare at them long enough, and it feels as though they’re moving. Beautiful stuff.

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Now for Remen Chopra’s “Memoirs of Tanaz and Vimla”.

Although I can’t recall exactly what was in the work, I have seen Remen Chopra’s art before. I just remember it being very fragile-looking, with fine lines and it having something like the outline of human figures. Seeing “Memoirs of Tanaz and Vimla” didn’t jog my memory although these works are also very fragile-looking, with fine lines and outlines of human figures. Incidentally, this is a good thing, in my book. There’s been some sort of development in the artist. As far as I recall, Chopra studied painting but in “Memoirs of Tanaz and Vimla”, she combines elements of drawing with photography and theatre. The story being told in the show was of these two women coming into their own (I think) but frankly, the story wasn’t what held a viewer’s attention.

Chopra’s mixed media pieces had a floaty, ghost-story like quality to them that was quite lovely to look at. The different transparencies of the layered drawings and photographs gave the works a sense of mystery. The images themselves showed the sets of a play and the various characters in different scenes. Reality in Chopra’s world is a magical bundle of history, performances, illusions and memories. You can put together any number of narratives by adding up the different details that she’s added to each of the works. It also made me think of how memories change because we play the past out in our heads differently at various points in time. I loved the way Chopra used theatricality in her works. The play that she was showing was clearly a period piece, which gave Chopra’s final works a delightfully old-world flavour and yet they were distinctly modern.

Not necessarily an outstandingly brilliant show but very pretty and definitely promising.

Look at that. I managed to keep it under 1,000 words. Maybe I should write posts while playing Sushi Cat more often.

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2 thoughts on “Recap: Contemporary Tibetan Art & Remen Chopra”

  1. The painting titled Bollywood Buddha has been removed from the exhibition due to the protest from Hindu fundamentalist. Though the show continued without the painting, the artwork is currently under Mumbai police custody. I hope that writer would also say something about it.
    Thank you
    Dorjee

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