Muted Expression 2015 by Tsherin Sherpa

Click here to see Tsherin Sherpa’s piece Muted Expression at GOMA Brisbane

In Muted Expression Tsherin Sherpa deconstructs and reinterprets traditional Tibetan Buddhist iconography in order to explore physical communication and engage with socio-cultural issues present in contemporary Nepal and Tibetan Buddhism. Many of Sherpa’s works are characterised by a mixture of bright and colourful acrylics, inks, and metallic leaf[1]. His art often highlights conflict regarding Tibetan Buddhism’s relevance and interaction with contemporary global forces[2]. The displacement of Tibetan people has also impacted his art and identity. Born in Nepal to parents of Tibetan ethnicity, Sherpa’s upbringing both educated him in traditional Buddhist thangka techniques and ingrained within him an identity intrinsically Tibetan – recently describing himself as a “Tibetan nomad”[3]. Thus, Sherpa’s identity and worldview are fundamental to his artistic endeavours.

 

At first impression, Muted Expression depicts a seemingly chaotic jumble of humanoid limbs, hands, and feet mixed with serpent-like tendrils of varied thickness. Many of the humanoid appendages contort in unnatural ways; knees and elbows often bent, hands twisted or stretched out. The intermingling of form enables the viewer’s eye to explore the composition with a high degree of freedom. However, there is also a degree of unity through the combination of form and colour. Through this organisation two invisible lines emerge – one horizontal and one vertical – that divided the work into four rectangle sections of equal size. The overall use of form and colour create parallels between each of the four sections. However, the overall uniformity is not completely truthful; when looking closer the viewers see that individual forms are often divergent and altered in respect to their paralleled counter-parts. Thus, the work explores duality; chaos and unity; the parallel and the divergent.

 

Sherpa expertly uses medium to create contrast. All forms within the work are surrounded by platinum leaf. The varied texture of the leaf changes the degree of light reflected to the viewer simultaneously creating neighbouring areas of brightness and shadow. Furthermore, the polymer paint and ink absorbs the light resulting in a dullness or subdued appearance comparative to the platinum leaf. How the leaf’s reflections present themselves to the viewer depend upon the relationship between light source, work, and viewer. While each viewer may assume their visual experience of Muted Expression is shared by other viewers, in fact, the works interaction with time and space makes every view potentially unrepeatable. Thus, philosophic ideas regarding the viewer’s experience of art as unique are made tangible by Muted Expression’s interaction with time and space. Again, dualities are presented by Muted Expression; time and space, reflection and absorption, that simultaneously enable each viewer both unique personal experience and the guise of shared commonality.

 

Muted Expression use of physical gesture is a significant component for communicating chaos and unity, parallel and divergence, and emotive sensibility. Tibetan Buddhism’s iconography frequently incorporates the hands and feet of both historic spiritual leaders and deities[4]. According to Sherpa[5], Muted Expression fragments, re-imagines, and organises deity hands and feet in order to explore how gestures can convey meaning despite the absence of vocal language. Indeed, the gestures seem to communicate some form of spirituality, while the colours of hands, feet and corresponding limbs are inhuman and suggestive of humanoid deities. Furthermore, their emergence from a darkened obscurity — a background seen between forms — reinforces a sense of the unnatural or otherworldly. The serpent tendrils also emerge from obscurity, curling around the humanoid limbs. Within Tibetan Buddhism and to the Nepalese highland communities, snakes may symbolise negative emotions or the struggle to overcome anger[6][7][8]. The serpent-like tendrils in Muted Expression writhe and curl around the wrists, ankles, and limbs, their interweaving and clutching nature implying captivity. At the same time, the shape of every element presented is curved and completely devoid of pointed angles that suggests a sublime restfulness. Again, Sherpa presents multiple dualisms: humanoid appendages and non-human tendrils, familiar welcoming forms and powerful otherworldly unknowns.

 

Sherpa’s art comments on socio-political conflict felt both by himself and the Nepalese region[9]. His use of non-verbal hand gestures and multiple contrasting elements conveys hidden messages of duality. Thus, these contrasts present in Muted Expression likely echo the conflict within many displaced people residing in Nepal. With this in mind, the name Muted Expression suggests that Nepalese Tibetan Buddhists may have little voice to express their experience of displacement. Furthermore, larger global socio-political forces compel Nepalese Tibetan Buddhist communities to either assimilate or retreat into obscurity; one example being commodification of traditional thangkas for audiences who are un-familiar with and removed from the traditions of Tibetan Buddhism[10]. Through Muted Expression, Sherpa has created a masterpiece of dualism and political commentary. Captivating in its visual decor, demanding in its political undercurrents, the viewer is enticed to gaze, wonder, and reflect.

 

 

 

Bibliography

  1. Bazin, N. 2013. “Fragrant Ritual Offerings in the Art of Tibetan Buddhism.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society no.1 (2013): 31–38.
  2. Bentor, Yael. 1993. “Tibetan Tourist Thangkas in the Kathmandu Valley.” Annals of Tourism Research 20 no. 1 (1993): 107–37.
  3. Kathryn Brown.“Handprints and Footprints in Tibetan Painting.” PhD thesis. University of Michigan. 2000.http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.uq.edu.au/docview/304607252/abstract/CCBDD8C2A5F4AC0PQ/1(accessed April 27, 2016).
  4. Burnett, Katharine P. 2011. “Tibetan Buddhist Art in a Globalized World of Illusion: The Contemporary Art of Ang Tsherin Sherpa.” Modern China Studies no.2 (2011):23.
  5. “Conversation with Tsherin Sherpa Interview.” by J DeBevoise. October 24, 2011. http://www.aaa-a.org/programs/conversation-with-ang-tsherin-sherpa/ (accessed April 27, 2016).
  6. Ko, Hanae. “Tsherin Sherpa: Breaking Tradition.” ArtAsiaPacific, no. 96 (2015): 70–71.
  7. Ramble, Charles. The Navel of the Demoness: Tibetan Buddhism and Civil Religion in Highland Nepal.(Oxford University Scholarship Online. 2008). http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195154146.001.0001/acprof-9780195154146 (accessed April 27, 2016)
  8. Sherpa, Tsherin. 2015. Muted Expression. Synthetic polymer paint, ink and platinum leaf on canvas.

[1]  Hanae Ko. “Tsherin Sherpa: Breaking Tradition.” ArtAsiaPacific, no. 96 (2015): 70–71.

[2] Katharine P Burnett. “Tibetan Buddhist Art in a Globalized World of Illusion: The Contemporary Art of Ang Tsherin Sherpa.” Modern China Studies 18. no.2 (2011): 23.

[3] “Conversation with Tsherin Sherpa Interview.” by J DeBevoise. October 24, 2011. http://www.aaa-a.org/programs/conversation-with-ang-tsherin-sherpa/ (accessed April 27, 2016).

[4] Kathryn Brown. 2000. “Handprints and Footprints in Tibetan Painting.” (PhD thesis. University of Michigan. 2000) http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.uq.edu.au/docview/304607252/abstract/CCBDD8C2A5F4AC0PQ/1 (accessed April 27, 2016).

[5] “Conversation with Tsherin Sherpa Interview.” by J DeBevoise. October 24, 2011. http://www.aaa-a.org/programs/conversation-with-ang-tsherin-sherpa/ (accessed April 27, 2016).

[6] N Bazin. “Fragrant Ritual Offerings in the Art of Tibetan Buddhism.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 23. no.1 (2013): 31–38.

[7] Katharine P Burnett. “Tibetan Buddhist Art in a Globalized World of Illusion: The Contemporary Art of Ang Tsherin Sherpa.” Modern China Studies 18. no.2 (2011): 23.

[8] Charles Ramble. The Navel of the Demoness: Tibetan Buddhism and Civil Religion in Highland Nepal. (Oxford University Scholarship Online. 2008). http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195154146.001.0001/acprof-9780195154146 (accessed April 27, 2016)

[9] Katharine P Burnett. “Tibetan Buddhist Art in a Globalized World of Illusion: The Contemporary Art of Ang Tsherin Sherpa.” Modern China Studies 18. no.2 (2011): 23.

[10] Yael Bentor. “Tibetan Tourist Thangkas in the Kathmandu Valley.” Annals of Tourism Research 20 no. 1 (1993): 107–37.

 

Adam Buchanan

Written by AlisonStrachan