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Buryat artist sculpts a big name for himself on the world stage

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13 March 2015


Exhibition Journey to a Mystic Land at the Gallery Shchukin in New York showcases more than 60 of Namdakov's best pieces. Picture: Dashi Namdakov

He is an artist favoured by the British Royal Family and his works are collected by the likes of actress Uma Thurman and former German Chancellor Gerhard Shroeder.

Yet, strangely, Siberian Dashi Namdakov is barely known within his homeland, let alone around the world.

However, this could be about to change with a new eight-week exhibition of his work currently on show at the prestigious Gallery Shchukin in New York. Called Journey to a Mystic Land, it showcases more than 60 of his best pieces, including bronze sculptures, drawings and jewellery.

Born close to Russia’s border with China, Namdakov's work is steeped in Buddhism and draws inspiration from the traditions of the Turkic peoples of Siberia and Buryat legends and tales.

'Dashi Namdakov is without question a phenomenon in art,' said Elena Korolkova, a senior researcher and curator at the State Hermitage museum in St Petersburg. 'Not only Buryat or Russian art—and not only modern art—but art as a whole, regardless of time or place.

'His style is inimitable; his feeling for form, plasticity and motion, and the sense of harmony embodied in his works is faultless and at the same time absolutely original.'

Dashi Namdakov

'Dashi Namdakov is without question a phenomenon in art'. Picture: Dashi Namdakov

It is high praise indeed, but appears to be the typical way Namdakov is described today.

Born in 1967 in the small village of Ukurik, in the Chita region of Siberia, he trained as a sculptor at the Krasnoyarsk State Fine Art Institute. He spent four years on a course under the guidance of famous artists Lev Golovnitsky, Yuri Ishkhanov, Azat Boyarlin and Eduard Pakhomov.

Eight years after his 1992 graduation he launched his first solo exhibition in Irkutsk and since then his sculptures, drawings and pieces of unique jewellery have been on display across the world.

Among the prestigious venues that have hosted his works are the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, the Beijing World Art Museum, the Grand Palais in Paris, and Tibet House in New York.

One of the few living artists to have had a solo exhibition in the State Hermitage, he also has art works in museum's permanent collection.

Despite a cultural taboo, Namdakov has addressed the subject of Genghis Khan, sculpting the great Mongolian leader in bronze and acting as art director in the 2007 movie Mongol, for which he received Russia's Nika Award for Best Art Direction.

Royal hunt

Royal hunt

Royal Hunt at the 'center of Asia' in Kyzyl, Tuva Republic. Pictures: Dashi Namdakov

His sculptures are extremely collectable, with one using rare Afghan lapis lazuli stones sold at Harrods in London for £1.5million – the most expensive purchase in the store's history.

In a recent interview, Namdakov described himself as a 'workaholic' but put his success down not only to his devotion, but to his family and his Siberian roots. His father, Balzhin, had been a skilled craftsman who sculpted wooden statues and painted Buddhist icons as commissions for local monasteries.

'I had been dreaming about becoming a sculptor even when I didn't know such a term existed; it's in my blood,' he said. 'I am proud to remember 23 generations of my ancestors.

'Once after I successfully opened one of my first exhibitions in Russia, I came to share my joy and excitement with my master.  He had said to me, ‘All your talent Dashi is an achievement of your ancestors that has been accumulating for years and finally shaped up in you’. I loved his words as it helped me to understand that I am simply an instrument.

'I am very demanding with myself. I am a workaholic and I totally devote myself to what I do. I am thinking about trying myself in new areas - my parents were making national costumes, and I wonder if I might try myself as a designer.'



Amazon (curved marble). Dowry (bronze). Picture: Dashi Namdakov

Despite his recognition overseas – with his works also collected by the American singer Willie Nelson – Namdakov is passionate about ensuring his homeland is not forgotten.

'Organising my exhibitions in Siberia was really important for me and my team,' he said. 'We've been touring around, going to cities like Omsk, Buryatia, Chita and many others to make sure that people who can't travel to Moscow or Saint Petersburg can see my works. I want to pay back to my land, to the region where I was born, and show my works first of all there.

'I am married with three children, my family lives in London; as for me I'm getting to love Moscow, but my favourite place is still the village where I grew up. I became a lot more patriotic after seeing lots of countries and spending lots of time flying around.'

His latest solo exhibition in New York is his second in the city and showcases many of his works from over the past 12 years. Experts have described it as 'art within a worldview that is syncretic, embracing his identity, mysticism, the forces of nature, nomads of the steppes, and shamanism'.


Boy in the mask

Fantasy (bronze). Boy in the mask (from the series Masks of Mystery Tsam). Pictures: Dashi Namdakov

Among the pieces on display are jewellery in the form of wild birds, animals, insects and anthropomorphic creatures. They are said to resemble historic artefacts, ancient amulets and talismans that protect from evil or bring luck.

Many are crafted from precious metals and gemstones and some even incorporate unusual materials, such as mammoth tusk.

Nikolay Shchukin, director of Gallery Shchukin, said: 'The goal in this exhibition is to offer a chance for personal contemplation of Dashi's world. Very likely our comprehension of his work will differ from that of art historians and critics.

'The first impulse is to cast Dashi as a traveller from the world of the pre-Mongolian steppes and early Buddhism. It's easy for a Western viewer to accept it as a beautiful Eastern fairy tale, but it is much harder to understand it.

'It is my hope that the exhibition brings us closer to this understanding.'

Comments (4)

Stunning, thrilling art. I am in awe.
Durango Miller, Toronto Canada
30/11/2015 10:45
It seems I was mistaken- my wife (from Zabaikalye) tells me that Namdakov is very well-known and appreciated in his home region. She also tells me that Namdakov is friends with Igor Eliseev, a talented artist from Chita whose work is well worth checking out.
James Brooks, Belper, England (formerly Chita)
17/03/2015 17:59
Molodets. I lived in Chita for five years and admittedy had not heard about Dashi Namdakov's work, but his sculptures are clearly phenomenal, and I hope he becomes ever better-known and appreciated in Zabaikalye.
James Brooks, Belper, England (formerly Chita)
17/03/2015 15:52
His work is exceptional and extraordinary, would love to see a further story on his creation processes and photos showing how his work has evolved over time.
frances, usa
15/03/2015 03:59

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