“In the midst all these various changes in society, I feel I have been a human guinea pig, part of an ongoing experiment.”
b. 1963, Lhasa, Tibet
When Norbu Tsering was 13, his father died. To this day, he vividly remembers and often dreams about “the smell of formalin, the white surgical gauze wrapped around his body and the blood stains on it, the doctors in white gowns and masks”. These powerful memories have become entangled with Nortse’s struggles with alcoholism and the wrenching social changes he has lived through, particularly the Cultural Revolution, to which Father’s Violin 2 (2007) alludes. For the artist, painting himself again and again—in works rendered memorably bizarre by mummy-like bandaging, masks and beer bottles—acts much like a tongue on a sore tooth, constantly probing painful experiences in a vain effort to assuage the ache. Works such as Guarding Against Catching a Cold (2007) and The State I Am In 3 (2007) convey Nortse’s persistent sense of being bound, gagged, experimented on, and exposed to unidentified viruses. He hopes the details of his “isolated and eccentric” life will resonate with other Tibetans, whatever their backgrounds or present circumstances.