“Just as the identity of my homeland cannot be separated from religion and politics, so my own sensibility has been shaped by the undeniable bond between the two.”
Born 1961, Lhasa, Tibet. Lives and works in Chengdu
As the Tibetan-born son of a Peoples Liberation Army soldier, who studied Chinese painting in Beijing and then travelled via India to live and work in England before returning to China, Gonkar Gyatso has plenty of reasons to be drawn to the theme of identity. In his photo series My Identity (2003), he poses as a Tibetan thangka painter, a Chinese soldier, a Buddhist artist in Dharamsama, and a global contempoary artist, each one engaged in painting a different picture. The last of these, like the first, is a mandala—but updated with neon colours and computer-graphic swirls. In Buddha in Our Time (2007-08), the artist converts the faith that still defines Tibet’s identity into a hub of global modernity, using cheap plastic stickers to create a seated Buddha crisscrossed by streets and swarming with people and cars. Gonkar says he has only a layman’s grasp of Buddhism, but “I figured I would take what I know of it and compare it with what I know about Western culture; [examine] the many interpretations Buddhism has gone through depending on fashion and trends.” The Buddha is “my muse”, he adds—one of the few flexible enough to accommodate all the changes of place, pace and identity that a diasporic life brings. In Gyatso’s ‘sticker’ works the Buddha almost disappears among the glittery confetti of global capitalism.