Through Mongolia

‘Welcome to the City of Nomads’ hello Ulaanbaatar. Leaving Chinggis Khaan airport we drive into UB, the fast expanding capital of Mongolia. Much of the city is a building site enveloping a huge coal fired power station that dominates its surroundings. A rough road full of traffic and road works leads to wide muddy puddles outside the entrance of the newly built Platinum Hotel. It’s 11.30pm. The only lift, designated for 9 persons, fits 2 with bags. Thunder explodes outside as we enter our room.

Next morning we meet Mongolian artists Nandia and Toegi at the Mongolian National Modern Art Gallery, around the corner from Sükhbaatar Square. Together we install the exhibition Ger to Ger 21-30.8.2013 and check equipment for Difference Screen. The galleries are on two floors though the spaces beside the ones we are using are empty. The Museum houses fine collections of painting, graphics, sculpture, and handicrafts Artists also have studios here.



At Sükhbaatar Square Chinggis sits on the steps of the Mongolian Parliament looking towards the Blue Sky Business Centre. We lunch at Modern Nomads. Toegi recommended khuushuur (fried mutton pasties) a traditional dish washed down with Golden Gobi beer. There’s lots of meat on the menu, next day I opt for fresh stir-fry vegetables and green tea.


The competence to travel Aleksandra Janik & Magdalena Hlawacz (detail)

Our exhibition opened with much interest from Mongolian artists and public alike and concluded with a Difference Screen programme including Traffic Light in Shadow Toegi’s film reflecting the changing ways of life in UB.

Toegi and Nandia

Artist Ariunzaya kindly agreed to look after Difference Screen programmes and my computer throughout the continuing exhibition. Many thanks to Nandia for organising posters and publicity, including having Jantsa, home from NYC, translate About Difference Screen into Mongolian.

A man without a horse is like a bird without wings
Mongolian proverb

We travelled 2700km off road through this extraordinary country. On our longest journey, 16 hours from Khövsgöl to Ogii Nuur I dream I was on asphalt and wake up with a bump.

Uran Togoo

rounding up young yaks at Khövsgöl

Wild flowers and herbs abound in the northern half of Mongolia. Wonderful scents come up from the earth as you walk. There are more Edelweiss than in Switzerland.


Ulaanbaatar: Red Hero (since 1924) was previously known as Urga. Mongols, nicknamed the city Aziĭn Cagaan Dagina (Азийн Цагаан Дагина, “White Fairy [Dakini] of Asia”) in the late 20th century.

Sky worship is another integral part of shamanism; Mongolians leave blue scarves representing the sky on ovoos (shamanistic collections of stones, like cairns). Sky gods are honoured by flicking droplets of vodka in the air before drinking.

Sky Burial
After death bodies were left to the elements to be picked clean by birds or eaten by dogs and wild animals. Birds are a good omen, land animals not so good

Erdene Zuu monastery at the heart of Mongolian Buddhist faith was closed form 1937 until 1990. Ongiin Khiid, home to over 1000 monks was destroyed in the communist purges of 1939 when over 200 lamas were murdered. More than 270 monasteries were destroyed. So why does the name of the capital continue to be Red Hero?


After the alpine landscapes of the north we travelled cross-country to the South Gobi with memorable stops at Bayan Zag (the Flaming Cliffs) famous for Roy Chapman Andrew’s discovery of a nest of dinosaur eggs and Khongryn Els where Jayne Dyer and I somehow managed to climb to the top of a very high dune.

Jayne climbing


solar and satellite

At Dalanzadgad we marked our time in Mongolia with Ger to Ger artists’ presentations touching on the experience of the journey. I asked Nandia and Amrah to read in Mongolian. Nandia repeated simple words I chose which ended with the line Never predict the time of a journey in Mongolia. Amrah read out a list of names of some of the monks and lamas who were murdered at Ongiin Khiid.


Amrah reading the names of murdered monks


Next day we returned to UB with a chance to visit artists’ studios before the night flight to Seoul. Ian Findlay-Brown’s catalogue essay Lives Revealed for the exhibition Lost Children Of Heaven gives a good insight into Mongolian artists’ current practice. Ian Findlay Brown is the publisher and chief editor of Asia Art News.

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