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07july20101Dharamshala: With the combined stresses of paying for materials, finding a workspace, and balancing one’s personal interests with audience appeal, being an artist is never a profession for the faint of heart.  But to survive as an artist, while simultaneously holding a status as a Tibetan refugee in India?  Doing so would surely be incredibly difficult, if not impossible.  Nevertheless, in McLeod Ganj of Upper Dharamshala, a small community of artists is doing just this, with the help of Tashi Gyatso’s Peak Art Gallery.

After noticing with his girlfriend, Sarah Hartigan, that there were no local contemporary Tibetan art museums, Gyatso had an idea.  “If we could build an art gallery, it would be good for the artists and [we] could show to other people [what] Tibet contemporary art is [like].”  He notes that contemporary art is not a focus of Tibetan culture, but that this same art could have international appeal if displayed and marketed correctly.  With the profits of their successful jewelry importing business and a small loan from Hartigan’s parents, the couple founded Peak Art on April 2, 2010 in an attempt to “put Tibetan art on the world platform of art,” as Gyatso says.  The gallery appeals primary to Western visitors, whose patronage will hopefully help to expand the gallery’s international reputation and appeal.  Though Gyatso notes that finding adequate numbers of artists and artworks to display was originally an issue, the gallery is doing quite well now, and is showing around 35 pieces by eight artists.  Two of the themes commonly observed in the artwork are aspects of Buddhism and scenes from Tibetan life; this is hardly surprising considering Buddhism’s importance to Tibetans, and the refugee status of McLeod’s Tibetans.

07july20102Having come to India from Tibet at the age of six, Ngawang Dorjee is a perfect example of the artists Peak Art has come to represent.  Inspired by the artists around him and his rich cultural heritage, Dorjee states that “[he] want[s] to show more Buddhism things to other people.  It’s all about Tibet.”  Like the vast majority of the artists shown by Peak Art, Dorjee creates art in addition to holding a stable day job. “The thing is that I want to do more paintings but I can’t do it.  I have to make a living to do paintings and I have to keep it all together.  I can’t keep more paintings for myself; most of the time I do it for other people.”  Indeed, it is the desire to maintain a steady income and lifestyle that prevents most artists in Dorjee’s position from focusing more on their art.  Unlike many of his fellow artists, however, Dorjee had previous exhibition experience before he began exhibiting at Peak Art: “I had one [exhibit] in London with a small art gallery [Sweet Tea House]; [Gonkar Gyatso] used all my pictures at his gallery.  I worked with him as an assistant,” he says.  Dorjee adds that this experience allowed him to pursue art in a way that diverged from his traditional, fine arts training.  Given the similar training of many of Dorjee’s peers, it is impressive how well the artists have adapted to contemporary styles and themes.

Even as the future looms uncertainly for Dorjee and his fellow artists in McLeod, their commitment to the arts remains unbroken.  “I like [art]; the more I do it the more I like it,” Dorjee says with a smile.

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