“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 1962, Lhasa, Tibet

As the Tibetan-born son of a Red Army soldier, who studied art in Beijing and then emigrated via India to England, 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 woman, a Chinese soldier, a Buddhist monk, and a spiky-haired cosmopolitan, 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 life as a migrant brings.


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