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The current state of Tibet

The editors of Tibetan Contemporary Art had certainly not intended to publish complaints about the current state of Tibet. So how had Respa's work slipped through the net? Just as the PRC authorities had mistakenly assumed that their modernization of the TAR had been effective and embraced by Tibetans, so they imagined that the various forms of imported realism had effected a visual hegemony which could not be breached. Respa had managed to twist post-Socialist Realism's figurative code to suit his own ends, but alongside him a group of Tibetans were experimenting with another stylistic vocabulary that would prevent the authorities from identifying their true meaning and define a distinctively Tibetan aesthetic. These artists rejected Sino-Socialist Realism in preference for a pared down abstraction from the real which enabled a more independent' and identity-conscious Tibetan art to emerge. A crucial component of this new Tibetan painting is a critique which is muted, subtle and, for some, incomprehensible.

This truly novel Tibetan style was inspired by the formal lessons of Modernism. Ironically Tibetan painters first heard of this global phenomenon in the classrooms of their Chinese teachers, who knew the history of twentieth-century European and American painting from exhibitions held in Beijing since the 1960s.These shows had included work by Matisse, Picasso, Braque and later generations of painters who followed in the footsteps of such key Modernist figures. Publications based on these displays were owned by teachers such as Han Huu Li and consulted by his students. The impact of the Modernist dissection of the human form, most evident in Cubism, led one Tibetan painter to pursue a dramatic representational shift in his treatment of a subject he had previously painted figuratively. Jigme Thinley had initially painted his fellow Tibetans at work or in the home carrying out traditional activities, for example Preparing Barley {not illustrated), his technique and choice of subject matter was clearly indebted to the Chen Danqing vision of Tibet. In Preparing Borley a woman breast-feeding her baby is drawn in utterly Realist mode. But in a later work, Nurture, a Tibetan woman and child have been transposed into a composition almost entirely composed of flat, Cubistic planes, their bodies modelled in a style distinctly reminiscent of Picasso. Hence in the working career of one Tibetan artist we see the history of European Modernism in microcosm, abandoning the realism of Courbet and Manet and replacing it with the formal values of Picasso and Braque.

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