Gonkar Gyatso: Three Realms

WHEN : 25th Feb – 29 April
WHERE : The University of Queensland Art Museum

For many years Gonkar Gyatso has encrusted traditional Buddhist iconography with pop cultural referents to explore issues of identity, globalisation, hybridity, and consumerism. Significant new directions in his practice signal an opportune moment to consider one of world art’s rising contemporary art stars.

Gyatso was born in Tibet and grew up during the Cultural Revolution, which saw the suppression and destruction of art forms that did not coincide with Mao’s ideological program. Traditional religious Tibetan art forms were forbidden, as were bourgeois Western ones. Years later, while studying traditional Chinese brush painting in Beijing, Gyatso came to appreciate the distinctiveness of his Tibetan heritage. After graduating, he studied traditional Tibetan thangka (scroll painting) in Dharamsala, India. In 1985, he founded the Sweet Tea House in Lhasa, the first Tibetan avant-garde artists’ association. Gyatso moved to London in 1996 where he was awarded a scholarship to study fine art at Chelsea College of Art and Design, and established a London gallery for contemporary Tibetan art, also known as Sweet Tea House, in 2003.

Much of Gyatso’s work charts shifts in identity in relation to continual migration. It has moved through traditional Chinese brush techniques and Buddhist iconography to high-density pop collages of colourful stickers and cut-out text, playing on but subverting typecast notions of pop art and Tibetan culture while reflecting on the popularity of Buddhism in the West. In combining references to traditional Tibetan life with references to a global mass-media culture that threatens to supplant and extinguish it, Gyatso creates a volatile, ambivalent mix.

While Gyatso’s works featured in the 2009 Venice Biennale, the 2009 Asia Pacific Triennial, and the 2010 Biennale of Sydney, Three Realms is his first public-gallery survey. It presents three ways of looking at distinct phases of his work from the past ten years, in three exhibitions across Brisbane museums. Gyatso’s recent installations were presented at the Institute of Modern Art in late 2011, and Three Realms will continue at Griffith University Art Gallery and The University of Queensland Art Museum.

Gonkar Gyatso, Buddha. Sakyamuni Dissected 2010, mixed media, pencil and Indian ink over silkscreen, Reproduced courtesy of the artist.

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