Imagining the pandemic through the prism of Buddhism

loading ropes, a strand of hair, a thread pulled from a carpet – these are the lines that connect and divide the lives of those who are in Uuriintuya Dagvasambuu’s painting. The artist draws on household objects and Buddhist symbolism to evoke a fractured inner sense of a virtually hyperconnected yet physically isolated existence in the exhibition. Moods in the metaverse. It is a complex encounter with the burdens it the subjects, mostly women, carry and a vision of the world that differs and reflects the gendered work of the pandemic.

A procession of figures hidden behind telephones and KN95 masks approaches a curtain from which emerge gloved hands with temperature guns and syringes (“Pandemic Diptych”, 2021). Moods in the Metaverse is New, as in recently created, but the visual language of the artist is centuries old. While a herd of sheep moves in the opposite direction of the diptych’s queue, an occupant haloed with heads goes unnoticed; another woman contains a cluster of tiny human bodies that cling to her torso like a cocoon. The many-armed, fiery-haired entities, rendered in a thin, humble line, are largely reminiscent of the characteristics of Buddhist deities. What better illustration of women’s work in the pandemic than a thousand-armed figure holding a different tool to ease everyone’s suffering?

Uuriintuya Dagvasambuu, “Vaccine: first dose” (2021), acrylic on canvas and rice paper
Uuriintuya Dagvasambuu, “Pandemic Diptych” (2021), acrylic on canvas

Since the 14th century, when Buddhist women had nothing else to serve as a symbolic offering, they could donate their hair. The hair embroideries, textiles in which images are made with natural human hair, were a dramatic final appeal to divine intervention. In “Vaccine: First Dose” (2021), a woman wrapped in a curtain of hair ties up visions of domestic and celestial worlds through its strands, which are anchored to a spindle. Several images in this exhibit appear deliberately static, despite the theatrical compositions, but “Vaccine: First Dose” quietly swirls with anxiety as the woman maintains a fragile grip on more than one universe and additional actors step out of the fray.

Dagvasambuu’s gallery calls his work a new style Mongolian zurag, but this label only clarifies the art as painterly and Mongolian. The artist’s fantastical visual vocabulary transcends the certainty of historical title or the murky waters of national identity. In this latest series, she uses religious and secular iconography to give ethereal form to the trivial thoughts that float by passively scrolling in line or worrying about the future.

Dagvasambuu respects the agency of his subjects to exploit the possibilities of their online image and real work to transcend the limitations imposed on them. She interprets their expectation and watchfulness as divine and approaches the pandemic without taking gender for granted.

Uuriintuya Dagvasambuu, “Open 24/7” (2022), acrylic on canvas

Moods in the Metaverse continues at the Sapar Contemporary gallery (9 North Moore Street, Tribeca, Manhattan) until May 7. The exhibition was organized by the gallery.

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