Tibetan artist Gonkar Gyatso interweaves traditional Buddhist iconography and pop culture to explore issues of identity, globalisation, hybridity, and consumerism.
Gyatso 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 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.
Gyatso's work charts shifts in identity caused by continual migration. It has moved from using traditional Chinese brush techniques and Buddhist iconography to dense collages of colourful stickers and cut-out text. Gyatso plays on but subverts typecast notions of Tibetan culture while reflecting on Buddhism's popularity 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 volitile, ambivalent mix.
While Gyatso's works featured in the 2009 Venice Biennale, the 2009 Asia Pacific Triennial, and the last Biennale of Sydney, Three Realms is his first public-gallery survey. It presents three distinct phases of his work from the last ten years in three shows in three Brisbane museums. First, Gyatso's most recent work will be shown at the IMA. Three Realms will continue at Griffith University Art Gallery (25 February–1 April 2012) and UQ Art Museum (25 February–29 April 2012). Three Realms has been curated by Simon Wright, and is a joint project with Griffith Artworks and UQ Art Museum.