Nationalism in Contemporary Mongolian Painting
(55th Meeting, 2012)
Since the fall of Communism, Mongolia has risen as a modern, national state that is attempting to create a national identity to replace the religious identity of the first independent Mongol state of 1911, and the Communist identity of the People’s Republic of 1924. It is safe to say that Mongolia is now going through its nationalistic period that defined the European states in the 19th century. As in Europe, a large part of the task of defining a national identity is left to artists, mainly painters and sculptors. Mongolia has a long tradition of painting, and in the past 20 years, painters have treated subjects of Mongolian tradition. During Communism, historical and religious painting was restricted, and national identity was defined through the depiction of folk life (A. Sengetsohio: Uurgach), 1962) and folk customs (M. Butemj: People’ Festival, 1973). Some painters began a careful examination of religious and historical subjects at the end of the Communist period, (such as G. Purevbat: Morin erdene, 1985) and with the shift in the political system came a radical shift in artistic subjects. Historical and religious paintings are now among the most common subjects. Chinggis Khaan is naturally a favourite subject (Y. Altansukh: Chinggis Khaan, 2007, N. Adiyabazar: Heroes of Chinggis’ Empire, 2006 and many more). Yet, different painters treat these subjects in widely different ways. While artistic styles where restricted to Socialist Realism during Communism, some painters never the less incorporated traditional Mongolian styles towards the end of the era. The fall of Communism also opened up for the intrusion of Cubism, Surrealism and other forms of avant-garde in Mongolian art. The goal of this paper is to examine the underlying political messages of subjects and styles, the redefinition of what it means to be Mongolian in a free state.