On June 15, exactly one month ago, I got to spend some of the most fun hours I’ve had in eleven years of traveling to Mongolia, buying a ger at the Narantuul Market inUlaanbaatar. Not to bring home, but to use at one of my favorite places in the world, Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve in Dornogobi Aimag, which I went to on an Earthwatch project (still going strong) on my first trip to Mongolia in 2005.
Before I left home, calls were made for me to get price estimates so I would know approximately how much things would cost. As it turns out, it’s impossible to get traveler’s checks anymore and foreigners are limited on how much money they can take out of an ATM per day. So I carried $1500 in cash with me, which was converted into tugrik, the Mongolian currency, before we went to the market.
I didn’t do this on my own, but had the expertise and assistance of two Mongols. One, Dr. Amgalanbaatar Sukhiin (Amgaa), is the Director of the Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve Park Administration who I’ve known for eleven years. He granted my request to be able to set up a ger in the reserve, designated some choices for the location and helped with the shopping (talking to the sellers, carrying the money and paying for things) and the set-up. The second is Batbold (generally known by his nickname “Shavka”), a herder who lives with his family near the reserve, in a ger, of course. He was kind enough to drive his truck to Ulaanbaatar, help with all the purchases, transport everything back to Ikh Nart and help with the set-up. This dream come true would not have happened without them, along with other helpers you’ll meet next week.
“Ger” means simply “home” in Mongolian, but it’s generally associated with the round “felt tents” that the Mongols have lived in for over a thousand years. It’s a structure that is perfectly adapted to conditions in the Mongolian countryside. I thought of buying and living in one for a week to ten days a year as a kind of final exam to see how much I’d learned over the years staying at the Ikh Nart research camp, tourist ger camps and visiting many herder families.
So, how did I do on the budget? The ger cost 1.5 million tugrik…$750 USD. We were moving fast so I didn’t write down what everything else cost. All of it together came to $1200, pretty much what I’d estimated. I also paid Shavka’s gas and road fees and something for his helper and that took care of the rest.
Next week: Putting up my ger at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve.
International Children’s Day isn’t celebrated in the USA that I know of and suspect most Americans have never heard of it. It’s the exact opposite in Mongolia where it’s a big, big holiday. I just happened to be in Ulaanbaatar, having arrived a day earlier, and spent over two hours at Chinggis Khan Square, taking photos and thoroughly enjoying the day-long celebration.
Here’s a selection from the over 400 images I shot:
The last day of the 2014 WildArt Mongolia Expedition had finally arrived. One more night in the countryside and then back to Ulaanbaatar. The day took an unexpected turn that led to a perfect final evening….
And so ended the 2014 WildArt Mongolia Expedition. We met every goal that I had set for both habitats and endangered species. We are the only western artists now to have gone to Takhiin Tal, the first takhi release site, where we saw both takhi and khulan, and Sharga/Darvi where we saw over thirty saiga antelope. We met the scientists working to conserve these species and saw snow leopard habitat, complete with ibex. We forded flooded rivers, camped under Gobi skies, visited and hiked an important sacred mountain, attended a local naadam, stumbled upon an ambler horse race, explored a very special monastery, and painted and sketched as we went.
Now there will be a special group exhibition of paintings from the Expedition, featuring myself, Tugsoyun Sodnom and Oidoviin Magvandorj. It will be at the Union of Mongolian Artists Gallery in Ulaanbaatar from June 27 to July 8. There will be an opening reception on the 27th.
I want to say a very special “Thank You!” to Nomadic Journeys and their staff, who made the Expedition possible and contributed greatly to its success. bayarlalaa
I head back to Mongolia on May 28 for eight weeks. There will be another WildArt Mongolia Expedition, this time to the northeastern mountains and the famous steppe grasslands to try to see and photograph six species of cranes, three of them endangered and also Mongolian gazelles. So stay tuned!
I’ve been having fun using a variety of photo effects on some of my iPad drawings using the Camera Awesome app on my iPad. I thought it would be interesting to do the same with a selection of my Mongolia photos. Here’s five I did this morning to see what I could come up with. I like it. So much of what one sees in Mongolia has an iconic, storybook quality that the images really lend themselves to “special effects”.
While I was in Ulaanbaatar this last trip, I spent a couple of mornings at Gandan Monastery sketching and taking photos. I thought that I would share some of my favorites with you of a truly special place that I always look forward to visiting when I’m in Mongolia.
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.
I arrived home from my seven week trip to Mongolia last Tuesday. I’ve been alternating catching up and doing….nothing or at least nothing more strenuous than watching a baseball game. The first order of business was to download and start categorizing the over 8000 images I shot on the trip. I always feel better when everything is safely on the hard drive, backed up to the remote Vault and visible in Aperture.
My final days in Ulaanbaatar were a bit of a whirlwind. The art event at ArtiCour Gallery was great! There was a steady stream of people all day, some of whom I knew. There was a lot of interest in the WildArt Mongolia Expedition and at least three artists expressed an interest in going next year. Many art students came by. The director of a Mongolian magazine which publishes articles on artists stopped in and said that they want to do an article on my and my work! Even more special to me personally, a number of very prominent Mongol artists attended, all of them members of the venerable Union of Mongolian Artists, which was founded in 1944. Two of them invited me to visit their studios. But that will be a tale for another post.
Here’s a selection of photos taken at “American Artist Susan Fox-The WildArt Mongolia Expedition”, which was the first in ArtiCour’s new Visiting International Artists series.
It was Siberian ibex this time at Ikh Nart. I’d see them on previous trips and always take photos, but my main goal has been seeing as many argali as possible. This year most of those were 20km or so to the northeast, so it was not possible to walk to where they were, at least for me, and I didn’t have a car and driver this time. I’m good for about 8-10km or so a day, especially if it’s hot. And was it hot! Probably close to 100F on a couple of days and not starting to cool off until around 10:30 at night. We also had a couple of rain storms move through during the eleven days that I was there, one with quite a light show.
I walked down the valley the first day, followed a slope up to the top, sat down to sketch the scene in front of me, looked around and there behind me I saw that I was being watched by an ibex. Forget the sketching, the wildlife fieldwork was on!
It turned out there was a group of around a dozen nannies and kids, one of each wearing radio collars, who were hanging around two adjacent rock formations. The first day there were also two young billies, one two and one three years old, judging from the ridges on their horns. I saw and photographed them in that same location three out of the next four days, shooting hundreds of images, around 900 in all. So you know one subject I’ll be painting this winter….
My main reason for going to Ikh Nart, though, was to have my annual visit with the members of Ikh Nart Is Our Future, the women’s felt craft collective that I support. I had a very good meeting with the director, Ouynbolor, during which we spoke (through a translator) about how things had gone since I last saw her and what she needed me to do for this next year. Coming up will be a larger quantity of the full-color brochures I and staff at the Denver Zoo had produced to explain the collective to visitors to the tourist ger camp. They will also now be produced in Mongolian, not just English. There were also matching product tags in three sizes. They worked well, but a much larger quantity of those will also be needed for next year.
I registered a url for the collective last year, knowing that they wanted to have a website. At the meeting we were able to work out the content and a way to communicate while it’s being put together.
The really special part is that I was able to arrange to go to the soum center (county seat), Dalanjargalan, for a night and a day. I had always met the women at either the research camp or the tourist ger camp and felt that it would be very beneficial to spend at least a little time where they live (when they are not out in the countryside at their gers with their animals) and learn a little about their lives. I got a walking tour that included the local school and shop. I stayed in the home of one of the collective members. Had lunch at the home of another and, in the afternoon, around a dozen members gathered at “the office”, a little building that used to be a gas station, to process their wool, turn it into felt and also work on various items that they will sell. I saw the felt presses that I had helped them acquire in action, along with the good sewing scissors they had requested in 2009. They have quite an operation set up now and work very efficiently and with great care and conscientiousness. I shot both still photos and around an hour of video with my new Panasonic recorder, enough to put together a little YouTube video after I get home.
My ride back to camp arrived later than expected, around 10:30pm, and the reason was that they had seen and captured two very young long-eared hedgehogs that were crossing the road in front of the car! Hedgehogs are one of the species being studied at Ikh Nart, by a graduate student named Batdorj. Within a kilometer of leaving Dalanjargalan, a third one dashed across the road, this time an adult darian hedgehog, and it was captured too, riding back to camp on the lap of one of the students wrapped in his jacket. I was able to get a lot of photos and also video the next evening before they had radio transmitters glued to their backs and were transported back out to the general area in which they’d been caught. And yes, there will definitely be hedgehog paintings, cards and prints coming up.
I also had time to just wander around the reserve and see what there was to see and it turned out to be….wildflowers! The rains have been very good this year and everything is green, green, green. I’ve been to Ikh Nart in August before, but have never seen so many different flowers and so many that I had never seen there before. It was like walking through a huge flower garden.
Finally it was time to depart. We were taking the train overnight to Ulaanbaatar. Most of our luggage, except for what we needed for the night, was taken back to UB by car in the afternoon. The rest of us caught the 1:14 am train and arrived about 8:30 am. I had never done this before, but managed to get around five hours of decent sleep. We were taken back to Zaya’s Guesthouse, where we got showers and sorted our dirty clothes for laundering. The rest of the day was spent getting lunch and puttering around, catching up on emails. The next day I spent most of the afternoon doing a massive download and back up of all the photos and videos I’d shot.
So now I’m at Zaya’s, which I highly recommend to anyone coming to Ulaanbaatar. The rooms are sparkling clean, there is free wifi and the location is very convenient, right off Peace Ave. not far from the State Department Store. There is a common living room with a very comfortable sectional sofa and a full kitchen for the use of guests.
As for the WildArt Mongolia Expedition, I’m now working on the last bits of planning and arranging, some things having changed since I left the US. Flexibility is important when doing things in Mongolia. It makes some people really angry when something doesn’t go right or on schedule (so this is not a country they should visit), but I’ve found that it creates possibilities that wouldn’t exist otherwise.
I’ll be in UB for the next 2-3 days, then I’m hoping for a long weekend at a ger camp I’ve stayed at before. Stay tuned!
Mongol ethnic folk group Altain Orgil is essentially the house band at the City Nomads restaurant in Ulaanbaatar. I had never heard of them until I bought one of the CDs on a whim at the HiFi shop on Seoul St. Wow. I will be at City Nomads at 7:30pm sharp next time I’m in UB.
There are a number of these groups around, young people who are not only preserving traditional singing forms and instruments like khoomii, long song and morin khuur, but adding their own individual vibes and twists. What makes Altain Orgil interesting to me, besides loving their music, is that they often wear authentic-looking Mongol shamanic clothing when they perform. Unfortunately, I could only find a couple images of the group, but there are a number of videos on YouTube and I’ve posted a few of them below.