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Macalester College

Publication Date

Fall 2016

Program Name

Mongolia: Nomadism, Geopolitics, and the Environment


Following the country’s political transition to democracy in the 1990s, a generation of Mongolian artists constructed an art movement rooted in the issues of the new society: transitional national identity, corrupt political and economic systems, and a growingly complex relationship with nature. The liberalization of the economy, however, hasn’t nurtured sustainable creative resources or helped artists reach domestic or international markets, pressuring them to find alternative ways to create livelihoods out of their craft. This study considers how emerging multidisciplinary artists sustain themselves through both formal and informal means, and the motivations behind their creative lifestyles.

Central to the study are the following questions: How do emerging artists “make it work” in the transitional economy? How are contemporary artists received in Ulaanbaatar (the nation’s capital)? What are the barriers keeping Mongolian artists from gaining greater public recognition? The study involves 21 participants, including 15 working artists and three curators working in Ulaanbaatar, and three artists who’ve left Mongolia for Europe. They participated in open-ended interviews surrounding their motivations, and perceived support and barriers on a number of dimensions ranging from the government’s contributions to access to studio space to public perception of contemporary art. The artists work in mixed fields of contemporary art including painting, sculpture, video, and mixed media, and more conceptual forms including installation, performance, and land art.

The study’s findings suggest that there are many intersections between the conditions of working artists in Ulaanbaatar and those in more emerged scenes in Europe and the United States given kindred conversations surrounding the demand for space, struggles to stay afloat financially, a lack of validation, and reliance on informal communities for sustenance. The struggle of working artists may be universal, but the conditions in Ulaanbaatar are very particular and require a nuanced look given the country’s recent emergence from seven decades under strict socialist rule, and the tensions of Ulaanbaatar’s shifting cultural and political landscape.

This study is critical for two reasons: (1) Because many emerging contemporary artists work at the vanguard of culture, we can better understand an alternative view of the rapidly-changing city by speaking with those on the margins; and (2) By including artists from the post-colonial world [or post-socialist, in this case] in the popular canon of art history, we can assemble a deeper understanding of art’s historical narrative outside of established, Whitewashed art institutions.


Art and Design | Arts and Humanities | Asian Studies | Community-Based Learning | Family, Life Course, and Society | Fine Arts | Politics and Social Change | Sociology of Culture | Work, Economy and Organizations


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