In early September I traveled back home to UB, Mongolia to paint a wall as part of the Cultural Exchange Program for the 40th Anniversary of Australia-Mongolia Diplomatic Relations, which was on September the 15th.
I haven't really done much back home in terms of exhibiting my work, so this was a bit of a big deal to me personally. And having to deal with government officials from each side and come up with the concept that was "fine" by both sides was a bit of a task in itself.
My initial sketch had a Mongolian shaman dancing with an Aboriginal shaman/wiseman character over a landscape that shifted from left to right which started with snowy Altai mountains, then mongolian forests and rivers, followed by Mongolian steppe, which turns into the red sands of Australian outback, then forests and hills, and then finally a coastal scene with a beach and palm trees. And the wall I was offered was originally a huge horizontal wall with 25m x 8m dimensions.
(image on the left got all the references for each section planned out.)
But this being Mongolia, the wall changed into the one you see in the photos... It moved to the dormitory wall of School of Cultural Education, part of Mongolian State University of Arts and Culture. And the design had to be changed, as the Mongolian side were sensitive towards depicting a shaman on an government commissioned wall.. I get to know about it on the day I was leaving for Mongolia to start painting... so i went a bit abstract-ey, and do a sketch with a horse and a kangaroo jumping playfully at each other...
... and the Australian side went a bit sensitive cos the kangaroo seemed to be "bowing to the horse"... I'm already behind schedule at this stage. I planned to spend 12 days in Mongolia, and leave for a friends' wedding in France which was on the 15th... so, I remove the kangaroo, and email a picture of a galloping horse on its own... because at this stage i'm already panicking a bit, and got the good ole' creative block..
I explain in my email, that it will have lots of abstract elements from both Mongolian and Aboriginal cultures, with plenty of green and gold thrown in etc. etc...
And, this is in Mongolia, people think differently, and i'm trying to make it fit in somehow.. The Australian side thinks it's ok, but Mongolian side says "what's with a lonely runaway horse??"
OK, no go then.
I decided to go and have a chat with the school director in person, and get suggestions on what they want, perhaps. He turns out a nice elderly fellow, an old-timer (meaning he's full of Russian socialist/communist aesthetics), we get talking, and I ask for some books I could borrow, with pictures I could use for reference and brainstorm a bit. The first book he gives me has a photo of this dude Tserendorj, a renowned Morin Huur player, State "Khan" Morin Huur player at that, meaning he goes to official Government events as a special guest to play and sing Mongolian folk songs. Perfect. I decide to go back to the original idea, and replace the Shaman with Morin Huur player. For the original design, I had found photo references for the Aboriginal wiseman, a dude called Major Sunmer. Since it's a sensitive issue for the Australian Government, the Embassy guys set out trying to find the guy, and hopefully get a clearance from him. From Canberra they tracked him down, and asked his permission to use his image as a reference for the mural. Thankfully, the good Major gave his blessing. He is a Ngarrindjeri Aboriginal elder from Lower Murray, South Australia. He had one condition, the plaque that is to be put on the mural after it's finished, should have the following included: "The image of the Aboriginal Wise-man was inspired by Australian Indigenous Elder, Major Sumner, Cultural and Spiritual Advisor within the Ngarrindjeri Nation." No problem. Now, I had to meet Mr. Tserendorj, and ask for his permission. I found his mobile number through family; turns out he comes from the same region as my father's side of family - the Gobi desert. I gave him a bell, and he got pretty excited about what we proposed. He invited me to his home, said he wanted to meet me and also show me some photos that I could use. So I rocked up at his house, and his place is like ... awesome.
Inside, it's decked out like traditional Mongolian Ger: felt walls, with timber lattice over it, complete with Toono - the window of a ger, positioned on the ceiling, with lots of ancient string instruments, and such. And this was just the lounge room. He was the perfect gentleman, and not only gave me heaps of reference pictures I could use, but also told me lots of educational stories about Morin Huur.
So, now that I had the blessing from both subjects of my painting, I could finally start.
The scissorlift I had rented was the smallest size, which goes up to 6m, as the previous wall I had in mind had an iron fence right next to it, and I couldn't see anything bigger fitting in. With the new wall, it just had to do.
The first day of painting, a guy comes up to me, and asked me who I was painting. I tell him it's loosely based on Mr. Tserendorj. The guy tells me "I thoughts so... Looks like him. He's my father." Turns out, Mr. Tserendorj's eldest son is the Morin Huur teacher at the school I'm painting at! talk about working under pressure..
Because of the new layout of the wall, I put the Mongolian character on top, and towards the back, with the Aboriginal character down and front. Australian Embassy guys got a bit concerned about this new arrangement, and suggested I balance it out, by giving them the other country's landscape... which was brilliant.
Took me 3 days to finish the piece, and I had some spare paint, so I rounded up some of my local mates and hit some spots.
Meanwhile, I was asked to have a seminar with the students at the School of Cultural Education. I wasn't sure exactly what they were expecting, so I just put together a slideshow of some of the work I've done in the past, and a few short videos and hoped for the best.
and nearly 100 people showed up. It went for about hour and a half. I did my best not to stutter, and not to think too long for the right word, cos I gotta admit, talking about art practice in Mongolian, without using any English words is pretty damn hard.
... and a TV crew showed up to do a news piece too.
and then I chilled for a few days
by playing domino at my uncle's with my cousins
and eating a lot..
catching up with some old mates over a few drinks..
(the label for this Chinggis beer was designed by my dad, back when they didn't have computers..
it is still one of the best draft beers around. word!)
Ulaanbaatar is a crazy busy place these days, developing at an insane rate, everywhere there were new buildings already built, or being built..
Meet my niece Iveel:
She had a unique request from me. She wanted 2 ponies painted on her house (which was still under construction), one for her and one for her baby sister...
So I oblige...
I think my cousin was happy with it more so than her, cos now he could order pizza delivery and go "it's the house with the ponies!"
And here came the big opening day of the mural. Australian Ambassador to Korea, Mr. Sam Gerovich was flying in to meet and greet, and open the wall. In the email I got it said "15mins in front of the mural to get photos of us shaking hand"... The uni officials had a different plan..
And after about nearly an hour of speeches and performances, we got to pose for the photos...
and finally, here's a video of famed Mr. Tserendorj performing at the opening ceremony:
My 4th solo show Manifest wrapped up. Got an overwhelmingly good response for it, and I want to thank everyone who came and supported. Here's a little video of the opening night, courtesy of Rtist Gallery and Oberon Creative.