Mongolia Monday- I Meet Mongol Artists (At Last!)

I’ve known since my first trips to Mongolia that art is an extremely important part of the culture, but had not found a way to meet or connect with any of the artists themselves. Until now.

Thanks to Janna, the Director of ArtiCour Gallery, who hosted my Ulaabaatar art event on September 22, I got my wish and then some. The gallery represents some of Mongolia’s most prominent and honored painters. Some of them were kind enough to come to the event and two invited me to visit their studios, which I did the next day. I had a wonderful time, thanks to Janna and Khaliunaa, who was one of my interpreters for the art event (along with Buyandelger) and who was nice enough to come along so that I could talk to the artists.

Although they did not have access to the West during what the Mongols call “socialist times”, many Mongolian artists traveled to Moscow, St. Petersburg and other Eastern Bloc countries to study in a variety of art academies and schools, so they were trained in classical, academic methods. They were limited in what was acceptable to paint, Impressionism apparently being totally off-limits, but still found ways to express themselves with great originality. With the coming of democracy in 1991, the artists of Mongolia became free to go wherever their artistic vision leads them.

The following is a “album” of my visit to the studios of six artists, all members of the Union of Mongolian Artists, which was founded in 1944 and has its own large, airy gallery space in the heart of Ulaanbaatar. I’ve been going there every trip since 2006 to see their exhibitions.

The studio photos and some of the art images were taken with my iPhone. Some of the other painting images I scanned from materials like brochures and booklets that the artists gave to me as gifts. I hope you enjoy this “studio tour” and you can be sure that there will be more to come in the future.

The artists are presented in the order in which I met them.

E. Sukhee, who I was told is one of the most eminent artists in Mongolia
Uulen Choloonii Nar by E. Sukhee
G. Dunburee; he was definitely the extrovert of the group
Dunburee’s famous painting “Ikh Khuree”, a scene of Ulaanbaatar in the 1920s, one of a series
Some of Dunburee’s location paintings
Fellow artist, Sosobaram, who stopped in for a short time, Dunburee and I
Sosobaram gave me a lovely booklet of his life and work. I scanned this and the following two images from it. Here is one of his drawings, I think from when he was a student.
Tsagaan Sarnai by B. Sosorbaram
Avto Portret 2006 (Self Portrait 2006) by B. Sosorbaram
S. Bayarbaatar
Talin Unselt by Bayarbaatar
Natsagdorj- one of the very few watercolor artists of his generation
Ikh Taigin Namar by Natsagdorj; he is from the northern part of Mongolia and at one time specialized in images of the Tsaatsan or “Reindeer People”.
Tugs-Oyun Sodnom
Ger District 2009 by Tugs-Oyun
Landscape in progress- Munkh
Landscape in progress- detail
Finally, Tugs-Oyun, me and Janna Kamimila, the Director of ArtiCour Gallery, who arranged this memorable afternoon with the artists, who couldn’t have been more welcoming

Out and About in UB- A Visit to the Mongolian Modern Art Gallery (Illustrated)

Went to BD’s Mongolian BBQ for dinner night before last. It’s quite popular with the Mongols even though there’s nothing authentically Mongolian about it. Apparently it’s a Chinese invention. BD’s does the same kind of stir fry on a big hot surface that you see in the USA. Mongols don’t do stir fry.

Real Mongolian BBQ involves killing a goat, slitting the body cavity open, cleaning it out, stuffing it full of hot rocks, putting the whole thing in a metal container and setting that on hot coals to cook. When it’s done, the meat is pulled out, along with the rocks, which are then passed around, hand to hand, for good health. And yes, I’ve had it, hot rocks and all, and it was good.

I don’t envision a real Mongolian BBQ place coming to your neighborhood anytime soon.

I’ll probably go back there again since for 6900 tugrigs I can get a heaping bowl of veggies, noodles and meat with Mongolian ginger sauce. A small Chinggis Khan beer is 2100 tugrigs. 9000 tugrigs at the moment is less than $8.

Plus the cooks show off by doing things like lining up four or five pieces of broccoli on the long sword-like turner and then flipping them all up into the air and catching them all on the plate. So it’s dinner and a show.


This morning I had breakfast in the hotel, which is included in the price of the room. They’ve gone from a menu to a breakfast buffet with an egg cook, like you see at many hotels now in the states. It’s really sped up getting breakfast and one can skip the slices of mystery meat that I think they put out for the Germans.

The weather was nice and cool when I left the hotel around 9 am. I walked about twenty minutes to the Mongolian Modern Art Gallery, which is actually a museum since nothing there is for sale. There was a show that I had read about on one of the Mongolian news sites and today was the last day.

With all the Prop. 8 stuff in California and the civil rights issues concerning LGBT citizens that remain to be addressed, I wanted very much to see “Beyond the Blue Sky”, a “multi-media art exhibit for, and in collaboration with, Mongolia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community.

The people in the photographs have their faces covered by khadags, blue scarves, which are given as gifts, but are also used to cover the faces of the dead. It symbolizes the position LGBT people find themselves in in Mongolia since currently they cannot live their lives fully, but must conceal their gender identity or otherwise be vulnerable to prejudice, discrimination and violence.

It was a very powerful show.

Here’s the image that really struck me the most:

Image of man in del. face covered by khadak, "Beyond the Blue Sky"
Image of man in del, face covered by khadag, “Beyond the Blue Sky”

I then went upstairs to see the main galleries, which house original Mongolian paintings, sculpture and fine craft dating from the early/mid-20th century. As a socialist state with close ties to the Soviet Union, aspiring Mongol artists often studied art in Moscow. This gave them a grounding in classical realism that allowed them to create paintings of great quality. And they’ve built on it ever since, adding their own unique interpretations of the world they live in.

Here are some examples:

Portrait, Orkhon, N. 2006 oil
Portrait- Orkhon, N. 2006 oil
Portrait, detail
Portrait, detail
The Red Portrait, Nasantsengal Bayanjargal 2001 oil
The Red Portrait- Nasantsengal Bayanjargal 2001 oil
The Own Portrait- Ulziikhutag, Yondon 1991 oil
The Own Portrait- Ulziikhutag, Yondon 1991 oil
Lord of Great Land- Ichinnorov, Choij  1981 oil
Lord of Great Land- Ichinnorov, Choij 1981 oil
In Art Studio- Bold, Dolgorjav  1981 oil
In Art Studio- Bold, Dolgorjav 1981 oil
Horses Hoof- Tsegmid, P.  1986  oil
Horses Hoof- Tsegmid, P. 1986 oil
Post Man- Tsembeldorj, Myatov  1997  oil
Post Man- Tsembeldorj, Myatov 1997 oil
The Bullet of the Sky- Tumurbaatar, Badarch  2004  oil
The Bullet of the Sky- Tumurbaatar, Badarch 2004 oil
The Guardian Spirits- Advabazar, Nyam  2001  oil
The Guardian Spirits- Advabazar, Nyam 2001 oil
The Light of the Steppe- Sanchir, N.  2002 oil
The Light of the Steppe- Sanchir, N. 2002 oil

There was also this wonderful ceremonial drum with deer painted on it..

"Deer Drum" leather on wood frame
“Deer Drum” leather on wood frame
"Deer Drum", detail
“Deer Drum”, detail

Finally, here are some views of the gallery spaces:

Gallery 1

Gallery 2

Gallery 3

I had lunch at Millie’s, which serves good solid American food like burgers and sandwiches and is popular with the expat community of consultants and aid workers, along with visitors like me.

The next stop was the Hi Fi store, to see if I could get some of the music CDs for groups I’ve found on YouTube and Imeem. And I had some success. By the time I left, it was getting seriously hot, so I hiked it back, about 30 minutes, to the hotel to hide out until it cools down.


An addendum to my comments about all the livestock I saw when I was coming into town. Looks like it’s not as charming and picturesque to the authorities as it was to me. This is from a Mongol news website,

“Herders asked to move livestock away from Ulaanbaatar
Tue, 7 Jul 2009 17:07:49

The Metropolitan Professional Monitoring Agency has reminded herders that there is a ban on livestock entering Ulaanbaatar green areas, and another on trading of any form in certain areas. With demand for sheep rising in Ulaanbaatar just before and during Naadam, some herders come to the city with their livestock at this time and the reminders are aimed at stopping the move.

Some 200 herder families have brought 30,000 animals into prohibited areas. The law calls for confiscation of all income earned from trading in such restricted areas. Further violation of the law can lead to imprisonment.”


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