Ryan_whole_thesis.pdf (7.09 MB)
The iconography of contemporary Tibetan art : deconstruction, reconstruction and iconoclasm
thesisposted on 2023-05-26, 05:11 authored by Ryan, AM
My thesis examines the contemporary Tibetan art movement that has emerged not only in the Tibetan homeland but also amongst the Tibetan diaspora. As the movement spans temporal and spatial boundaries, national and geographical borders, it is appropriate to examine the movement in the context of globalisation. I argue that these contemporary Tibetan artists are re-claiming their identity: an identity which has been usurped, not only by the Chinese occupation of their homeland which resulted in suppression of Tibetan culture within Tibet and displacement of culture in case of the diaspora, but also by the pervasive Orientalist view of Tibet as an exotic Shangri-La, a remote and imaginary utopia. This identity emerges in a post-modern global era as one that draws on a sense of place and culture to reflect on issues that transcend the local and have a universal relevance. I examine the different ways in which the artists, in both their homeland and in exile, negotiate their modern Tibetan identity, and how this is expressed in their art. Works of contemporary Tibetan art often involve the deconstruction and reconfiguration of Tibetan Buddhist iconography. They challenge art audiences to confront the stereotypes and assumptions of Tibetan culture. In this thesis I argue that while these artworks may appear iconoclastic, the artists do not reject tradition or denigrate religious images, but rather, reinterpret Buddhist iconography in a way that is relevant to current day issues in contemporary life. By redeploying Buddhist iconography in a contemporary context, these artists renew Tibetan art and Tibetan Buddhist culture, thereby helping to keep this endangered culture vital and dynamic. My thesis is largely based on extensive interviews with artists both in Tibet and the diaspora. In addition, the key authors and publications that have informed my work are: Clare Harris, anthropologist and curator at Pitt-Rivers Museum, Oxford, particularly her two books: In the Image of Tibet: Tibetan Painting after 1959 (1991) and The Museum on the Roof of the World (2012); Giuseppe Tucci; David Jackson; Per Kvaerne; Donald Lopez; Janet Gyatso, as well as contemporary Tibetan scholars, such as Tsering Shakya. I also draw on the work of post-colonial thinkers, such as Edward Said, and contemporary art theorists such as Nicolas Bourriaud, particularly his publication Altermodern: Tate Triennial, 2009. Little serious scholarship has been undertaken into this relatively new art movement. Tibet's unique socio-political situation, with its homeland now in China, a government-in-exile in India and widespread diaspora in the West, poses important questions with regard to identity in a globalised world that no longer conforms to the centre-periphery paradigm but rather accedes to a system of multi-directional cultural flows. The concept of a transnational art movement, which is nevertheless identifiable by its cultural foundation, is an important area of inquiry in terms of what it can say about the evolution of society and culture in a globalised world. It also has implications for the Eurocentric stranglehold over art history, notions of hybridity and Western cultural stereotypes of the other‚ÄövÑvp. By focusing on the contemporary art of the Tibetan community, my intention is to contribute to the post-Orientalist discussion of culture and unravel a complex iconography for a global audience.
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