Baatarzorig Batjargal’s (Mongolia b.1983) Mongol zurag paintings possess a strong element of social criticism, betraying the influence of Chinese political pop in their use of recognisable historical figures and their juxtaposition of traditional and consumerist imagery. Drawing as much from caricature and political allegory as from traditional painterly motifs, Batjargal brings satirical humour to the serious content of his work.
Aesthetically distinguished by their fine shading and epic composition, his paintings are particularly concerned with the loss of traditional heritage through a succession of regimes, from the ascetic culture of Soviet-style communism to the rising inequalities and contemporary capitalism. The title of Nomads refers to a way of life whose dissolution is felt strongly in Mongolia. With its immense cast of characters, the work reads as a portrait of the country’s march through the ages and into the present day.
Batjargal’s work is an example of contemporary Mongol zurag, a critical revival of a painterly idiom developed during the Mongolian independence movement of the early twentieth century. Characterised by its ultra-fine brushwork, bright colours, flattened perspective and themes drawn from everyday life, Mongol zurag (literally, ‘Mongolian painting’) synthesised elements of Tibetan Buddhist tangka painting, Chinese guohua and the Khitan equestrian art of the Liao dynasty (907–1125). It emerged to address themes of secular nationalism at the time of Mongolia’s declaration of independence from the Manchu Qing empire after China’s Xinhai Revolution of 1911.
As Mongolia came under Soviet influence, Mongol zurag was subsumed into the officially mandated socialist realist style that would dominate Mongolian culture from the bloody Stalinist purges of the 1930s until the Democratic Revolution of 1990. Established as a subject at the Mongolian University of Arts and Culture as Mongolia sought to reconstitute its national identity in the late 1990s, Mongol zurag has been adopted by a passionate new generation of artists who find within it the means of addressing the contradictions of their lives at a time of unprecedented urbanisation, financial precariousness and competing cultural influences.
Exhibited in the 8th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT8) | 21 Nov 2015 – 10 Apr 2016