532 Gallery Thomas Jaeckel is pleased to present Zayasaikhan Sambuu, Mothers of Invention, his first solo exhibition in New York.

The exhibition features a recent series of acrylic paintings, which Zaya has described as "paintings for the Mongolian people" (Levin, 61). A current theme is that of questioning Mongolian identity. An identity that had been suppressed for a large part of Mongolia’s history by its intrusive neighbors, China and the Soviet Union.

After 12 years of nomadic life, the artist returned to Ulaanbaatar, where he had received training in the traditional Mongolian style of painting, Mongol Zurag, which translates to "Mongolian Picture.” This Mongolian style is rooted in "Buddhist iconographic paintings, with an emphasis on finely detailed lines, traditional motifs, and subjects driven from history and nomadic cultures of Central Asia,” a tradition instrumental in maintaining cultural identity during the twentieth century period of socialism.

Though he draws influence from the ideals of Mongol Zurag, the artist does not identify solely with this niche category. He has created his own style, combining Mongolian traditional painting with contemporary international art forms. This combination of styles is well-depicted in his painting, Three Warriors (2019).

His re-imagination of Viktor Vasnetov’s Three Bogatyrs, which is a painting from 1890 in Moscow’s Tretyavkov Gallery depicting three beloved epic heroes or knights. This image is very well known to Russians. Vasnetsov showed the three heroes together, guarding the Russian borders, one of which is with Mongolia. Zaya manages to make such historic imagery the subject of parody, while raising large, unstated questions.

(Gail Levin in an essay about Zaya, 55)

A constant depiction in the artist’s work, culminating with the impressive 9 large-scale paintings of The Return of the Forebears” (2020-2022) on view in this exhibition, is that of a combination of traditional Mongolian women handling non-traditional musical instruments.

When Zaya observed that "women and musical instruments make perfect harmony when they go together," he also echoed the sentiments of Picasso, who often linked the forms of stringed instruments and the shapes of feminine forms in the art of his cubist period.

(Gail Levin, 33)

An example of this combination is impressively depicted in The Return of the Forebears (2020), depicting traditional Mongolian women with non-traditional instruments.

Despite the Western influence, the heroines of the visual stories I tried to tell were all Mongolia's nomadic women. Their close relations with nature, their hard life out on the harsh Mongolian steppe, their unique inner world, and the customs and traditions they carried on gave me tremendous inspiration and subject matter for most of my earlier works. Through the distinctive features of these Mongolian women's expressions, I tried to tell a secret story that has never been told: of happiness and misery, of humanity's relations with nature, and of history and contemporary lives and how they connect with us. This period of pure inspiration, pride in our collective history, and an almost direct historic translation was succeeded by inner direction, and my later works reflected on the stories of the self and others."

(Zayasaikhan Sambuu)