Gonkar Gyatso, Tibet’s pre-eminent contemporary artist whose personal, political and often humorous work bridges Eastern and Western culture, will present his solo exhibition, Pop Phraseology, opening 18 September 2014, in Hong Kong at Pearl Lam Galleries.

With a long interest in material and pop culture, Gyatso often combines references to traditional Tibetan life with references to the global mass-media culture that is constantly interacting with, and shaping, our current perspectives of cultural identity. By confronting the undeniable bond between his homeland’s religion and politics, Gyatso throws into question what is considered traditional, while addressing the many new cultural hybrid identities to which globalisation has given rise.

In his new series of works, Gyatso has turned his focus toward phrases found in popular culture. These phrases, generated out of social or political need, are often temporal. In making them the focus of his work, Gyatso tries to create a tension between the aesthetic attention he gives his work, and the implicit meanings of the words. As in previous work, Gyatso seeks not to project a specific idea or agenda. Each piece serves as his own meditation on what it means to be living in a particular place at a particular time.

Gyatso characteristically juxtaposes the Buddha, a figure of tolerance, and the geometry required for traditional Thangka paintings with Western iconography to deliver his own vision of the coexistence of many aspects of human society—whether they be political and social debate, differences in culture, race, women’s rights, human rights, globalisation or the environment. The Buddha figure in Gyatso’s work is a representation of cultural elements and his Tibetan identity, rather than any religious elements, while also serving as a beautiful form which he manipulates with his unique visual language of stickers and ephemera, magazine and newspaper clippings, as well as Chinese and Tibetan characters, to address a multiplicity of subjects.

Gyatso is inspired by urban spaces, where people and ideas coexist and sometimes clash, and in his collages he aims to capture the juxtapositions of everyday life, using a range of materials which reflect the mass culture of the 21st century. He predominately uses stickers, collected from around the world, as well as of his own design, to bring equal attention to the mundane as well as the extraordinary. The continued appropriation and re-appropriation of mediasaturated environments, as well as the Buddha form, illustrate his interest in omnipresence, while at the same time cast an ambiguous perspective on the pieties embraced by each. Each work becomes just as much about the viewer’s own experience, looking and interpreting, as it is a personal expression. The paintings and sculpture included in Pop Phraseology can be seen as the culmination of 10 years of thinking on themes of hegemony, geo-political conflict, and mass culture, as well as the role of culture and tradition as society forges ahead.

“Gyatso is deeply moved by the need to preserve and celebrate his own culture and just as artists like Judy Chicago, who seeks to make the vernacular of womanhood part of our discourse, or Glenn Ligon, who works to talk about Black Identity in America, or Yinka Shonibare, who uses the textiles of his heritage to address issues of colonialism, Gyatso inserts Buddhist and Tibetan iconography into our daily lives. They all ask, where is our place? What is our role? And, where are we going from here? It is a fascinating and inspiring discourse to be engaged in.” Pearl Lam, Founder of Pearl Lam Galleries

Gonkar Gyatso is a Tibetan born British artist. Born in 1961 in Lhasa, Gonkar moved to London in late 1996 on a scholarship to the Central St. Martin’s College of Art and Design, where he attained his MA in Fine Art. Gyatso has a BFA in Chinese Brush Painting from the Chinese Institute of Nationalities, Beijing, and studied Thangka (traditional Tibetan scroll painting) in Dharamsla. Gonkar is the founder of the Sweet Tea House, a London-based contemporary art gallery dedicated to showing Tibetan work, which he ran from 2003–2010. Gyatso was the recipient of a Leverhelm Fellowship in 2003 and was an artist in residence at Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. His work has been exhibited in galleries and museums around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art (NYC) in 2014, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (Boston, MA) in 2013, and the Tel Aviv Museum of Art (Israel) in 2010. Gyatso has participated in the 53rd Venice Biennial (Italy) in 2009, the 6th Asia Pacific Triennial in Brisbane (Australia) in 2010, and the 17th Sydney Biennale (Australia) in 2010. His work is held internationally in public and private collections including The Metropolitan Museum of Art (USA), The Museum of Fine Arts Boston (USA), The Newark Museum (USA), The Wereld Museum (Netherlands), the Queensland Art Gallery (Australia), White Rabbit Collection (Australia), The Burger Collection (Switzerland), and Red Gate Gallery (China).