Shot over seven years, DRAWING THE TIGER takes a sweeping view of one…
Above and Below
When artist Tsherin Sherpa came to San Francisco from Kathmandu, Nepal in 1998, he was a religious artist painting sacred Buddhist meditation images. He struggled to find a place for his art in a new land, and wanted to express stories and ideas that went beyond the Buddhist niche. But moving forward meant leaving the art and identity that defined him behind. He had to find a bridge between his tradition and the world he now inhabited. Above and Below follows Tsherin’s remarkable journey over a 19-year period, presenting key moments and artistic milestones that define his personal and career arc. We experience this breakaway artist’s movement from strictly held Buddhist traditions, towards honesty and expression, to international art stardom. In doing so, he finds new meaning for an ancient art form, and establishes a global voice and platform for modern Himalayan art.
Brenner-Hall, Sheri (film director)
Brenner-Hall, Sheri (film producer)
Brenner-Hall, Sheri (screenwriter)
Coyote, Peter (narrator)
Editor, Sheri Brenner-Hall; director of photography, Andrew Black [and 3 others]; music, Victor Spiegel.
Distributor subjectsHimalayan Culture; Diasporic Identity; Modern Art; Buddhist Art
01:00:16:19 - 01:00:39:16
The town of Boudanath is a Tibetan Buddhist enclave about seven miles from Katmandu. The main stupa, or temple, is a site for Buddhist pilgrims and travelers. It's also a local landmark for artist Tsherin Sherpa. It's the place where he grew up and has now returned after living in the United States for 20 years.
01:00:43:01 - 01:01:17:01
He's been invited to participate in the Kathmandu Triennale Art Show. My studio involved in art is a little bit in the outskirts of Boulder, not quite 15, 20 minute’s walk from the stupa itself. The Spirit character is something that I came up with when I was a young child.
01:01:17:05 - 01:01:41:18
My grandmother used to tell us a lot of stories of Tibet. She used to tell us there are spirits in the mountain, spirits of the water, spirits of the village. So when I started making these new contemporary works, I was trying to reimagine her stories and then wanted to imagine whatever would happened to those spirits if all
01:01:41:18 - 01:02:01:17
the people from that particular village were gone because they have moved on to different places. How would they cope with this new environment? The butterfly is actually very related to my own story. I was born here in Nepal.
01:02:02:00 - 01:02:17:03
I grew up here. But at the same time, knowing that I'm also a Tibetan. Whenever I went to a Nepalese school, majority of students were all Nepalese kids, and I was the only Tibetan and how I would assimilate myself into their situation.
01:02:18:17 - 01:03:07:08
So I'm constantly changing my form in a way or my being to fit in that environment. So it's kind of like the lava tube, kind of like the butterflies. The Triennale is a prestigious national art show featuring 40 of Nepal's top modern artists after exhibiting in the United States and abroad for the past 20 years.
01:03:07:17 - 01:03:32:09
This show was a homecoming for Saroyan and his art. This is the first time I will be able to share my work while being there in person with the audience and in part. And also for someone like my father who has never seen my physical work.
01:03:33:11 - 01:03:54:14
Terrence father and teacher Ergon Dorje Sherpa is a master in the art of Tibetan Buddhist Tanka painting. Sarah and apprenticed with him for many years, becoming a highly skilled artist. He left his home in Katmandu and came to the United States on a fellowship from the San Francisco Asian Art Museum.
01:03:55:04 - 01:04:18:09
I came to the United States in 1998, June, became affiliated with some Buddhist centers, and then they wanted to have a thangka teacher here. Where do you get the most? My father at the age of 13. My father suggested that I study a conquered painting.
01:04:19:09 - 01:04:36:18
Thangkas are considered to have existed since the time of the Buddha himself. Tanka is a recorded teachings that put in the form of a painting. At that time, I didn't want to become a tango painter. My parents thought that it's very important for them to continue this tradition.
01:04:37:15 - 01:05:04:18
I would sit along with him in his studio and he would provide me with a sample grid. I would have to draw that image over and over for almost 8 to 9 hours a day. All the deities have a very specific symbolism, and if one is not depicting them correctly, then it loses the whole meaning of the
01:05:05:01 - 01:05:36:01
painting. I like to be understood as a traditional punk painter who is trying to put out a word to the world about the whole Tibetan tradition. I got involved with this ad campaign through the ad agency, which was introduced to me through the Asian Art Museum, actually.
01:05:36:11 - 01:06:00:19
They were inquiring for a Thangka painter who would do a poster design. The Jamba Juice poster depicts Jamba Cup in the center seated upon Lotus instead of the offerings that we depict at the bottom. I have fruits, the flavor that goes into that smoothie.
01:06:02:02 - 01:06:25:14
Could the use of this imagery for advertising have a negative influence on the audience? From my personal point of view, it doesn't because I'm not involving any Getty images. I told them it is inappropriate to have deities, but it is okay to have background details where we have all the artistic freedom for expression.
01:06:26:16 - 01:06:46:18
Tsherin found a place in the Bay Area community painting tankers and commissions and teaching thangka painting. He was simultaneously assimilating Western culture. The bits and pieces he took in from art, society and media eventually took him beyond the Buddhist niche forever.
01:06:47:16 - 01:07:19:21
I began to see many artworks, museums, met many artists and then learned about Duchamp, Warhol and then it gradually changed my perspective. I felt there. There's so much to talk about. There are lots of social issues. And how do I communicate with someone who doesn't have any knowledge of Buddhism?
01:07:20:05 - 01:07:42:04
How do I bridge that gap? I started working on some projects that are noncommissioned. They are not tankers, but more contemporary paintings addressing the contemporary situations, the time we live in. In 2008, a friend of mine actually commissioned me a work.
01:07:42:12 - 01:08:05:18
The Beijing Olympic was about to start. He asked Sarah to create a work showing what Tibetans in the diaspora were thinking. And this painting depicts how this Tibetan identity was endangered. Tibetan monk in the center inside of frame.
01:08:06:07 - 01:08:27:08
In my view, Tibetan identity is there yet? It is not there. It's like a picture inside a frame. It represents something, but it's not real. Around it is lots of monstrous looking images, almost attacking this central figure with lots of other symbolisms.
01:08:28:04 - 01:08:45:12
It has these characters holding Olympic torch, Olympic rings. I wanted to stay in the style of thangka painting where we have symbolism, but it has some very subtle suggestions. I used to live in Oakland at that time.
01:08:46:03 - 01:09:10:22
From my window we used to see this giant billboard in Nepal. At my home I could see the main Boudanath stupa and then prayer flags there. So it was an interesting transformation. Prayer flag to billboards. A modern prayer flag was commenting on the modern lifestyle, what we have here in America.
01:09:10:22 - 01:09:41:23
And I was fascinated by how companies were targeting consumers. I used to watch television and see various different types of advertisements. Buy one, get one free. Eat more. It got me interested about the whole industry, collected all the marketing slogans from these advertisements.
01:09:42:05 - 01:10:02:18
I called it the modern prayer flag. The most powerful thing in the world right now seems to be the stock market, because it seems to have that ability to crush someone or make someone simultaneously. So does that mean like the stock market has become the God?
01:10:03:02 - 01:10:24:12
It's a question I'm tackling through this painting. This painting is more of a critique to myself. What am I doing? Like I'm painting all these images that are supposed to be tools for meditation. And yet, at the same time, simultaneously, I'm also putting a price tag on it.
01:10:25:15 - 01:10:48:12
An image of enlightenment with a monetary value. Was I doing the practice I was supposed to do when I was painting thangkas? Or was I constantly thinking about how to pay my rent? Almost like the image from Buddha was becoming a commodity.
01:10:49:12 - 01:11:13:05
That relationship between commodity and sacred object is always there. That's why I'm using gold leaf, because gold we see in many of the traditional works. And in Tibetan tradition, more gold. We apply on deities. It's detachment from that material object.
01:11:14:16 - 01:11:35:16
But at the same time, the object becomes much more valuable because there's too much gold on it. I was becoming a little numb. The idea is when you see these images of enlightenment, a certain kind of feeling has to develop in oneself.
01:11:36:09 - 01:12:11:09
It loses its. Mojo. So I think I was drawn to be able to express myself something very honest. It was sometime back in 2008 that we were all waiting for this financial crisis. I wanted to address that issue from a Tibetan point of view.
01:12:11:13 - 01:12:38:19
I created this blue giant person that represents the organism or organized system. It has lots of boxes inside the body with Tibetan letters that reads the eight worldly dharma, which is like the eight things that we are so caught up in the world, which is longing for fame and longing for gain.
01:12:39:02 - 01:13:04:21
I was also trying to understand this term, the butterfly effect. They say a butterfly flaps its wings somewhere in Amazon has an impact to create tornadoes somewhere in America. So that sounded very much like interdependence, reality from the Buddhist point of view that every action we have has an impact in the world.
01:13:05:06 - 01:13:20:07
That is one of the key thing that we have to learn in Buddhism. Tsherin started sending this image out to all his friends. Among them was the curator of the Asian Art Museum, who introduced him to a renowned gallery in London.
01:13:20:13 - 01:13:39:02
Rossi and Rossi. They showed the painting to their client, the Rubens Museum in New York, and they bought it. Sharon's career as a modern artist took off from there. This was one of the first major groups show. Actually, it was my first exhibit in contemporary art.
01:13:39:13 - 01:14:03:01
And yeah, it was shocking that I was showing in a museum the very first time. So it was a little intimidating at the same time. More exciting was that Tibetans inside Tibet as well as outside Tibet, were showing for the first time together who have never had that kind of platform to show our works together before.
01:14:04:21 - 01:14:30:16
The title of the show was Tradition Transformed. So all of the artists who were participating in that show had been somewhat influenced by that tradition of art. But we're all commenting on the tradition. With a new perspective. So everything was very similar to traditional style, but the subject matter was very different.
01:14:33:10 - 01:15:04:05
Established a voice. We were trying to comment on the culture itself and how do we celebrate the new thinking process as well as maintaining the essence of the tradition. Many of hard line Tibetans may think that our work where we are manipulating the image of deity is very sacrilegious.
01:15:04:19 - 01:15:27:07
There has to be a bigger purpose behind that manipulation. Who were using that image? Not really as a Buddhist deity. Rather as collective understanding of that image. That image means so many different things. A Buddha image can be seen in a temple.
01:15:29:05 - 01:15:51:22
A Buddha image can be seen. On a bag. A Buddha image can be seen in a garden. Buddha image can be seen in Costco you don't like. So we are looking at this image from. Many different perspective, not just to say that it's a sacred object.
01:15:53:02 - 01:16:20:13
Sharon was invited to do several large works by the Queensland Art Gallery and Australia. These new works are experimental, inspired by raw shock images. Just trying to understand how a human psyche works. That's why Rorschach image was really interesting for me, because a person would project onto the image, certain imagery based on his or her experiences.
01:16:22:03 - 01:16:52:15
Some of the new works that I'm making right now are also about a viewer mostly dealing with perception. This is a painting that has swirling image of a deity as well as a spirit character. The spirit character is a half human, half deity where the colors of the D.A. dripping away and the human aspect is revealing in
01:16:52:15 - 01:17:19:15
some spaces. She is like the D.A. aspect is dissolving. Another form is being born. All the elements that are in the traditional painting tiger skin, hands, feet, skull ornaments. They might be able to recognize bits and pieces of the deity element in the work, or it could look very much like a design.
01:17:19:16 - 01:17:42:14
It's unpredictable. There came a point where I wanted to abstract the image of India to you. I've been working this Getty Images for almost 20 something years. It was something that was the closest imagery to me. What happens if I were to?
01:17:43:12 - 01:18:18:07
Extract all the grid system and can I try to find the essence of the deity within that form? The new forms are exciting for me. They are abstract, mysterious, almost mystical to me. I still highly revere traditional art and those who make traditional art through the new works, I'm able to connect with the world.
01:18:18:07 - 01:18:54:20
And what do I, as a human being, contribute to this world? Sharon went back to Nepal to create new works for his upcoming solo show in Hong Kong. Fairings Father Ergon Dorje Sherpa left Ngyalam, Tibet and came to Nepal in the 1960s.
01:18:55:16 - 01:19:24:04
He comes from a generation who actually left Tibet and continued his tradition, that tradition of thangka painting in Nepal and also studied with several different teachers. Also rediscovering the tradition in its own way by painting several monasteries, murals, painting some images of the deities that were never painted before.
01:19:26:00 - 01:19:49:04
So that is, I see him more as my teacher than my father. His quest to understand even the traditional art history is really amazing. The ancient knowledge contains very in-depth understanding of traditional religion or even culture, their heritage.
01:19:49:08 - 01:20:15:10
It's almost like understanding oneself and one's history, because I have never had the opportunity to go to. Tibet or see Tibet, you know. But in my mind, I know what happened in Tibet. So it's a very interesting phenomenon that knowing that you're a Tibetan yet you don't know what Tibet is.
01:20:15:17 - 01:20:34:16
That's the question that has always been lurking in my mind. The invasion of Tibet by the Chinese in 1959 forced many Tibetans from their homeland. As a member of the Tibetan Diaspora, Saroyan's work reflects an experience of loss of place and identity.
01:20:35:08 - 01:21:02:01
The True Stories Project is an artistic collaboration between the cities of Oakland and Katmandu, addressing the problem of child sex trafficking. One thing that I could relate to was the idea of displacement. I liked the image of this Nepalese child, which I saw on the Internet and gravitated towards it because her expression is very complex.
01:21:03:15 - 01:21:26:09
In the background, you see traditional motive fragments that I usually work with in my earlier paintings. I wanted to juxtapose that with the image of the child. To give a sense of displacement, physical displacement, as well as mental displacement.
01:21:28:05 - 01:21:56:06
There was not a single family that wasn't somehow affected by the earthquake because everyone was affected. When I was landing in Katmandu from the airplane, I could see like everything was intact and everything looked beautiful and colorful. But when you land in Katmandu and then when you interact with the families that have suffered, then you get to
01:21:56:06 - 01:22:22:12
understand the psychological trauma that they are going through. Then I thought it would be therapeutic even for me to release this whole fear. I started sketching for these new works. I wanted it to be a continuation of my practice, so I took some of the images that I had been working on before of these swirling, displaced deities
01:22:22:23 - 01:22:44:06
. When I was walking around in the cities and I would see all these dilapidated homes that gave me the idea that broken homes was very important. So I started incorporating some architectural designs, temples, a wall, then some images that were kind of surreal.
01:22:47:22 - 01:23:09:19
At the same time, a little bit frightening images. They're very colorful, bright, attractive, in a way. And the details are very small. So when you look at the work, you may not be able to see all the details right away.
01:23:10:00 - 01:23:41:18
But if you look at the works carefully, then you will see all these little scenes. I wanted to contrast the beauty that we see from far away to the psychological trauma. I used to stay in my studio in Katmandu, in Boulder.
01:23:43:02 - 01:24:23:05
I used to hear this sound sometimes in the morning, like somebody's banging on some metal. It was everywhere. Took a walk to that place and saw this copper marker of. I just. They were making these traditional Buddhist ritual objects.
01:24:23:15 - 01:24:49:10
I was fascinated by their skill and details, and I thought maybe I should collaborate with these people to create something about the earthquake. I designed something for them and which they crafted into copper. And then we created this which fulfilling tree mandala structure.
01:24:54:15 - 01:25:17:13
Tsherin worked with local artists to create a seven-tiered repoussé copper mandala for the upcoming Katmandu Triennale art show. I'm showing the wishful filling tree in Kathmandu. My interest in installation and 3D was always there. It's just that I needed the right time and the right people to work.
01:25:24:13 - 01:25:46:02
The Kathmandu Triennale brought Sharon back home again, this time to say he left his life in the Bay Area and returned to Katmandu. So the wish fulfilling Tree. it has sculpture as well as its installation. I also wanted to use a subject matter that they could relate to.
01:25:46:05 - 01:26:08:23
You know, in Nepal, the earthquake is something that they experienced. While in Nepal, I also interacted with about 700 people and wanted them to. Write their name on a ₹5 bill and Nepalese currency. The idea was as if making a prayer.
01:26:10:03 - 01:26:25:04
Most of the people who were there, who were affected when I asked them what their wish was. They were hoping the government would help them because their homes were destroyed. I wanted to use that banknote and write their names, sign it.
01:26:25:05 - 01:26:58:04
Basically, I wanted to consecrate the mandala with all these prayers. I started gathering all the household objects, something that they had strong memory with to recreate that effect. In Buddhism, Mandala is a domain of the 84 rings of the mandala are done traditionally, but the three lower rings the larger rings have my spirit character with a peace
01:26:58:04 - 01:27:35:13
sign. Even on the plate of the mandala, which is the base of the mandala, usually has auspicious symbols. I wanted to put something that is about people. For me, that symbolism was 12 Zodiac signs. A person who is not very familiar with the traditional mandala may see it as a very traditional mandala.
01:27:36:15 - 01:27:57:12
But for those who understands how the mandala should be, for them, it's a new form. Something old and something new. How to reconnect them, bridge them. It is something that they are familiar with, but at the same time, it's something very different.
01:27:58:12 - 01:28:26:23
The appearance of familiarity is it's kind of like a gimmick almost. It's something to attract them. But as you come there and interact with the work, it has layers of meaning for them to unfold. The work becomes much more alive when it has an audience and how they interact with the work.
01:28:30:23 - 01:29:02:21
What really interests me is how each individual confronts the work and reacts to it. Theron's growing body of work would continue to get the attention of curators and collectors in 2022. Saroyan's creations were gathered from private collections around the world and amassed into a career crowning exhibition organized by the Virginia Museum of Fine Art.
01:29:03:19 - 01:29:24:07
I was very, very much in awe when I saw the huge banner and the merchandise in the store. And this is something that I had and thought, this will come so early in my career. This exhibition distilled Tsherin's body of work over two decades.
01:29:26:17 - 01:29:51:09
Yeah. I think it's more about my own experiences, what kind of situations, informations or environments that I was interacting with. I think it started evolving accordingly. Noticing many of the people in Diaspora also having gone through these experiences.
01:29:51:09 - 01:30:21:00
I wanted to express this experience through my artworks and this is how my spirit character was developed. The largest work in this exhibition is titled Himalayan Spirits. I wanted to create a piece which is the showstopper. So I decided to experiment something a little large.
01:30:24:21 - 01:30:51:11
In four different panels. 11 characters. Mixture of both male and female characters. And in the background, there are many everyday life images from Nepal. And most of these spirits are in the foreground are lined up. It's kind of like the finale of an opera.
01:30:54:02 - 01:31:13:07
He also talks about these 11 figures as members of a troupe of actors. At the culmination, a grand finale of a performance coming to the edge of the stage. What I like about it is there are 11 of them.
01:31:13:07 - 01:31:26:23
And he has in mind that it's a troop of 12, but that there is a missing figure in that line up. And that missing figure is the person who stands before the painting as the artist working on it.
01:31:27:00 - 01:31:56:22
He's still embedded in the painting. But more interestingly for visitors is that every single person that stands in front of it and looks at it is being invited into that spirited group. Art is very much about exploration of one's self and how one connects with everything around him or herself.
01:32:00:17 - 01:33:17:18
The interactions, associations, things that you experience around you helps you grow as a person. And I think that's the same case with the artists, too.
Distributor: GOOD DOCS
Length: 35 minutes
Grade: College, Adults
Closed Captioning: Available
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