Nomin Bold

Nomin Bold, Labyrinth game (2013), gouache and gold leaf on cotton, 160 × 102 cm, courtesy Nomin Bold and Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane

Nomin Bold, Green Palace, 2017, acrylic on canvas, Naturkundemuseum im Ottoneum, Kassel, documenta 14, photo: Roman März

Nomin Bold belongs to the new generation of Mongol Zurag (literally, Mongol Picture) artists, who were trained after the socialist restrictions on tradition were lifted in Mongolia, just as the country was transitioned in 1990 into democratic governance and a market economy. Nomin, born in 1982, graduated from the class of “Mongol Zurag” in the newly opened division of “National Art” at the only public, state-run College of Fine Art in Ulaanbaatar. She and her classmates, together with their teachers, began the process of shaping and conceptualizing what Mongolian tradition means in a globalized world, in which Mongolia is striving to claim its own distinct place.

The concept of Mongol Zurag was developed by Mongolian art historian Nyam-Osoryn Tsultem (1923–2001) during the heyday of the country’s twentieth-century socialist regime. The Mongol Zurag was an “invention of tradition,” as British historian Eric Hobsbawm would have termed it; a strategy to preserve the cultural identity of Mongolians vis-à-vis the Socialist Realism that was imported into the nation and reinforced by its Soviet instructors. During the socialist period in Mongolia (1921–1990), the USSR and Eastern Europe were the windows onto the world, and the only channels through which European art media, such as oil painting on canvas, was introduced, quickly replacing Buddhist art traditions.

Nomin’s works are distinct for their subtle yet vibrant colors, meticulous drawing, and somewhat mysterious subject matter. Her frequent use of lone female figures as the single compositional element suggest, on the one hand, her interest in situating women as the key players in any environment; while, on the other hand, the national costumes (long discarded in Mongolia) or modern clothing worn by the figures offer a glimpse into the question of the relationship between modernity and tradition that the artist is struggling to understand and raising for individual interpretations.

Buddhist imagery in Nomin’s art serves as motifs and symbols of past traditions, now placed amid the contemporary realm of superfluous commodification. While the artist takes into account the intrinsic Buddhist meaning that she selectively brings into her works, it is rather her inquiry into the nature of the tradition itself and how it can be juxtaposed, superimposed, or envisioned in the modern world that motivates and inspires her unusual compositions. Such queries and inspirations imbue the art of Nomin with a mystery that demands inquisitive and unfaltering attention.

—Uranchimeg Tsultemin

Posted in Public Exhibition
Excerpted from the documenta 14: Daybook