A Person of Natural Gifts from Central Asia

A Person of Natural Gifts from Central Asia.

Tuva Republic. Our Motherland is Heaven.

The interest in the Tuva Republic culture has been growing steadily for the last decades. Having appeared among the visitors from the West, this interest has turned into some epidemics and race for exotics. Located in the geographic center of Asia, surrounded by the Sayan mountain ridges, this republic is rich in contrasts which can hardly be found anywhere else. Where else can you find mountains, steppes and taiga intricately wreathed into a unified landscape? Where else is the temperature 55 above zero in summer and 55 below zero Celsius in winter? Where else can you see the reindeers and camels drinking together from the same spring? One of the central streets in Kyzyl, the capital city of Tuva, is called Lenin Street which is a typical name for the central street in many other Russian cities. But where else can you see the street with such a name above which falcons but not pigeons or daws are flying? And so whimsical is the character of people living on this land. Their genetic memory of fearless Genghis Khan's soldiers towers above the vain daily froth, and the meek hearts of shepherds, hunters and Buddha monks seek the simplicity of vital wisdom in every current moment. The world history was imprinted on Tuva not only in the form of archaeological findings of paleolithic working instruments, the fortresses of Uigur and Turk kaganats but by transition from feuodalism of Chinese colony to a developed socialist autonomy of the Soviet Union as well. The source of the ancient spiritual culture of Tuva is shamanism which later accepted the teaching of Tibet lamas. Tuva people consider the dome-like Sayan mountains as a place where Earth is closest to Heaven and is most obidient to its will. They believe their ancestors have originated from celestials and have set the beginning to all other human genders, races and cultures. For this reason they greet everyone who comes to visit their in many aspects virgin land as their relative who came back to enrich their historical experience. So the majority of Russian and foreign visitors coming here inevitably get the so-called "Tuva disease". Being startled by the ability of local people to survive under hard social conditions, the visitors then have a very strange feeling - the feeling when the heart aches, the lungs are full of mountain freshness or when the work of a great Master gets into your hands. And you feel that the land where people speak a strange language is your home.

Artistic carving. Many rivers flow into the Enisey.

Traditional Tuva art of artistic carving is a thread of agalmatolite beads which end is somewhere in ancient times, and every bead is a history of the epoch fashioned by the Master's hands. Every master inherits the skills from his teacher and, having been taught to reproduce some definite canons, starts his independent travel of searching new unbeaten ways. Thus the preservation and development of tradition occurs. And in times of change we face the choice: which bead to string and which one to put aside. Tuvinian carvers used to get their artistic skills in their families in childhood, and sometimes pretended to have mistical origin of their talents. Now they get vocational training. How much is the live pulse of Tuvinian soul still being expressed in stone? At present the Tuvinian stylistics which became very popular among western aesthetes gradually replaces matryoshka doll, the very leitmotif of Russian culture, and forms a new formula. The demand gives rise to supply, and extra demand gives birth to pretty freaks of mass pop-culture. The question is whether we will be able to define real masterpieces which arouse the phonation of the very secret strings of our souls or postmodernist glamour will overshadow the shine of real talent.Are there any criteria for selection?

Tuvinian carving is the interweaving of a variety of ethno-stylistic formations. This harmonious symphony holds the elements of Scythian animal style and the traits of traditional Chinese applied art. Mongolian and Tibetan motives are held in Tuvinian carving closely linked with the creative plastic arts of North Siberian nations. The first problem connected with the understanding of its internal mechanism's work is not only the lack of convincing categories of fine arts for defining its specific character but the lack of its stylistic boundaries' positioning as well. Trying to define these boundaries it is worth to isolate some fundamental ideas, some essential characteristics. First, agalmatolite, the basic material of a Tuvinian carver, is a plastic soft stone of three colors mainly - white, fulvous and black. Second, specific method of carving when the contour and the size of the image are cut by means of a fancy and decorative incision which adds something special to the emotional impact of the figure. Third, there is anecdotal orientation to the search of tangible manifestation of "routine infinity". This search is implemented in the genre of animal style, common miniature, altar Buddah sculpture and sculptured figures of practising witchcraft shamans and astrological animals of 12 year cycle as well. Cutting chess pieces has been a sign of particular craftsmanship. And the main defining feature of Tuvinian carving has always been peculiar mood. This elusive, hardly identified factor expresses the inmost wishes of 'the people of Heaven". This peculiar mood is the essence of Tuvinian art tradition. And we can talk about true attribute of any carver to the art tradition of Uryankhai territory if he is able to give this specific feeling to the audience.

The White Dragon. Biography in brief.

His name is Tash-ool Buuyevich Kunga. The first name is Tuvinian and means "firm". His father's name - Buu (Bullet) - was Mongolian. The last name Kunga is of Tibetan origin and means "bliss". He was born in 1940. When he was 5, one of the still alive lamas recognized him as a successor of the royal family of heavenly shamans of Tuva and Mongolia. The boy had exceptional abilities which turned into uncommon gift for arts. The word "shaman" originates from Tuvinian words "hum man" which mean "the one who sees clearly". The white shaman gets his strength from his ancestor. He has a special gift to see the thruth. Shulbus (the devil) cause damage to people tempting their souls. He pretends his thoughts to be human thoughts and condemns a human being to degradation, diseases and misfortune. Shaman must banish the devil, and his main weapon is the truth. He should be able to withstand all kinds of demonic attacks. He will have to take other people's diseases on himself and if all these don't work shulbus will incline people against him. He will be alone forever. Being an outcast among his congeners, he will have to become their defender in the face of the Heaven asking for absolution to ignorant ones. Shaman should increase his strength by his personal experience, searching for the right decision in complex life situations. Communicating the creatures from the other worlds he will sease to be a human being. Facing the total basis of the universe his personality will die. He will become "Booga-hum", shaman-bull, who won't be tied up by terrestrial gravity. The thunder will become his laughter, all elements will obey him. The only thing which will remain is God's ire, the aversion to any kind of vice, any obstacle to the existance of the truth. Then the last ordeal is waiting for him. Being aware that people suffer from their own ignorance, he will have to refrain from becoming their indifferent and ruthless chastener having considered them unworthy of compassion. And only after he finds the way to put up with the imperfection of the world he will become the Great Shaman. People say so. Not everybody survived hard ordeals. Some ruined themselves by drinking, some died of heart diseases, some went mad. By the beginning of the fourties of the 20th century almost all Tuvinian shamans (about 3,000 people) and more than 10,000 Buddah lamas were exterminated by Stalin repressions. The very existance of spiritual tradition was on the verge of disappearance. Tash-ool Koonga took the cross of taking care of his congeners secretly and has been bearing this cross secretly for some decades. They say, he has been a watch repair man, a photographer, a forest warden protecting taiga from the fire, constructed and then headed village councils. Nobody knows everything about him. What is really known that long before perestroika he organized the first Shaman convention having legalized Tuvinian spiritual tradition. Together with his friends and at his own expense he built Buddah temples in Erzin and Samagaltai, the ancient Tuva capital, where he works up to now. He was not overcome by the lie of the informers, the guns of poachers, the knives of horse-thieves and indifferent drunkenness of his congregation. He is an unsurpassed healer and the stronghold of common sense in any life situation for his cogenders, and for his learners and disciples outside Tuva and the Russian Federation he is a legend man. He is the Master. His spiritual name is the White Dragon. And as it often happens with the real craftsmen in Russia, his patronimic- Buuyevich - serves as really respectful and trusting address to him.

People say that Buuyevich began his career as a carver in such a way: once a hunter came to him and asked what happened with the souls of those animals he killed in taiga. Sometimes he looks into animal's eyes and asks himself what will happen to him when his hour comes? His children ask the same. He does not know what to tell, and he does not know any other way of supplying food for his family. Buuyevich did not say anything to this man, he only asked to bring the horns of an antilope shot by him. Some days later he gave to the hunter the miniature image of this animal, read the tarina (Tuvinian and Mongolian hearty pray), blew at it three times and asked to put it in the yurta next to the family pictures. Much water has flown in the Yenisey since that time. The hunter became the head of a big forestry farm, his son, a monk, is learning the tantras of Buddah of Healing in Northern India, his daughter is in publishing business in Saint Petersburg and the figurines cut by Buuyevich can be seen as ultrararities in private collections of Saratov, Novgorod as well as Vienna and London connoisseurs of art. And we have a chance to touch real art as long as hunters bring him the horns of elks and mountain goats.

The Secrets of High Style.

The Great Shaman does not like to speak about what is waiting for us "there". He also never tells anybody how he manages to work with the material which in the opinion of most experts is not liable to artistic working - the horns of elk and yaman are too hard and granular. It's not the shaman's work to measure secret notional pulsations by words. He just gives his friends a chance to become the possessors of the gift he has got himself - the gift "to see". But how to take an advantage of this rare chance? And what is the essense of this gift? The history knows some outstanding examples of spiritual art when people having opened their individual consciousness to the uniformity of cosmic harmonies possessed the gift to share their emotional experience with those around them. "The singers of unspeakable wisdom" left to their listeners the refrains which , having been understood properly, served as launching triggers of integral perception. Thus, the great yogi Milarepa is shown on Tibetan tkhankas with a hand next to the ear: the sound hears itself. There is no anyone who would separate the internal from the external. There is only Self-existing Mind holding the universe. Sufi sheikh Omar Khaiyam is intoxicated by wine, by an open heart, and his song is about clay, the symbol of inconstancy and mortality of everything. This thought allows him to enjoy every moment of life as if it is the last one. For the famous Chan preceptor Su Shi the image of a going with the stream boat is a decoding tool for his poetry. There is no need to make efforts for perceiving the truth - it will do everything itself for it to happen with you. You should just open yourself for it. So, what sort of prompting has Buuyevich prepared for us? What does his most "silent" art not speak about? What prays and exorcisms do these bone miniatures which are considered either as drastic amulets or as inimitable masterpieces keep? Maybe it is a too risky game - to see the obvious in unsaid? I believe that if you are not afraid of pulling any threads which make the patterned carving of Tash-ool Koonga, sooner or later you will untwine this misterious tangle of mistic codes and culturulogical patterns. Making the first steps on the way of artistic canonization of legendary Buuyevich in his lifetime, I'll try to state some assumptions on the subject - who is he? where is he from? where is he going inviting us to join him?

Assumption #1, formalistic. Experimenting with the plastic of peculiar texture and playing with its unevenness, the master sets free something which can not be valued, which is the property of the life itself. Focussing on the form of existence, he sacrifices to the space as a receptacle of all living things. All his works are the outlines of momentary impressions on the tracing-paper of noncreated energies. Any definite image he is examining is like a drop of water in the ocean. This drop is interesting as it is but also as it shows the integrity of all other drops in which it is inserted and the water itself which all the drops are composed of.

Assumption #2, methodological. The figurines are made with a different degree of detalization on the one hand and with the use of different techniques of material processing on the other. Scrupulous working of some elements, thorough cutting and polishing of surfaces often adjoin the details less carefully worked out. This can be considered as a crafty way to direct the viewer's perception from the circumference of the miniature composed of quatations, historical and cultural patterns, micro- and macrosamples into the very heart of the image. He intentionally provokes us by his discords trying to evoke the emotional burst which will clear the eyes. He produces artefacts of spontaneity which eliminate automatism of artistic perception. Being a missionary of creative destruction, Koonga patiently and ruthlessly takes the viewer's attention away from material bearer of the image. He gives the viewer the opportunity to feel clear emotional experience and the consciousness to see itself.

Assumption #3, psychological. Tash-ool Kunga is an animal painter. It may imply that he uses the images of animals to explicit psychological essense of his characters. Looking at his animals you may find out that this or that animal presents the raised image of human nature or its certain emotional state. Secondary traits are ignored in favor of the most essential ones. But there are no primitive analogies that a reindeer always personifies nobleness and a snake is a personification of wisdom. There will probably be a hint that mountinous and taiga fauna is a sort of a scale of human weaknesses and virtues, a storage of people's poses and attitudes so that the question arises : and who are you?

Assumption #4, dramatic. One of the main motives in T.Koonga's creative work is the theme of universal drama. This play takes place on a stage where everyone is equal to the whole universe. He sees a majestic cosmic king in a Rooster, quite odious image of the every-day thinking, and a neighboring tippler and trouble-maker - in a Black Dragon, a ferocious ruler of the storm. All his characters with their life-stories and a set of traits co-exist peacefully bound by the threads of destiny. The role they play in this life is not completed. We come home, take off our shoes, clothes, masks which adhere to our faces tighter with each coming day and stay face to face with the director of this performance - the Loneliness. Getting prepared for the coming day, which role do we choose for ourselves out of the great number of options? What are the reasons which make the female yak to become an unwed mother hiding her exultation in long wool? What inducements made a camel of this honest worker who forgot that it was possible to get joy not only from work? Who will measure the real value of actions we exhange? Who knows who of us is right and who is wrong and who will be "the last to laugh"?

Assumption #5, psychodelic. All the preceeding and succeeding assumptions are the attempts to see the different sides of the same person of natural gifts. Complete understanding of T.Koonga creative work may imply the presence of alternative opinions on the same issue. The author's position is to knock together different subpersonalities of connoisseurs of art, to utterly mesmerize their associative apparatus, to lead them into a dead end and finally turn off the activity of their tired of agitation brain. And what will happen when clear, free of doubts intuition takes the power and opens the gate to the closed sixth sense? Is it possible that some day a figurine of argali on the shelf will suddenly come to life shifting from one foot to the other, and holding him by his horns we will make our way through the wallpaper patterns which turned to be a magic forest? Rhythmical roar of the tambourine will chase our argali and he will carry us further beyond the clouds of the habitual forms of reality. We will realize that we are dreaming, we'll become aware of the illusiveness of that existent, then we will wake up realizing the illusiveness of the one who dreams. We will wake up over and over again shaking off the old skin of ego-shells, fears, fruitless hopes until we wake up in the mountains of the Great Haiyrakan, the ancient cosmodrome of Tuvinian shamans. Keeping back a smile Buuyevich himself will come up to us, take the vacuum flask with tea, boiled mutton and talghan out of his worn case and carefully sing drawling the words: "One must eat!" Assumption #6, ironical. Intentionally or not, but the very perception of creative work turned to be something different from the one we got used to in the hands of T. Koonga. It is not a process of producing some objects which the viewers should like. This is a process of solidarity with the Creator. Master Kunga does not take his art seriously, probably because he does not take the universe which portrait he is diligently depicting too seriously. Any individual narrow-mindedness, be it beautiful or ugly, may look ridiculous in the face of the open potentiality of the universe. Universal game for Buuyevich is a comedy, and his laughter is the acceptance of the world in its fullness, it is a chance to forgive the sins to every participant of this game. Assumption #7, concluding. It is hard to suppose what Master Koonga's reaction to these lines would be. It is quite possible that having lived for decades behind the wall of misunderstanding he would be very pleased to see the detailed studies of his work. Maybe he himself does not realize how many ideas and guesses regarding his carving can arise in somebody's mind. Probably he was just entertaining himself after shaman's work cutting something which would cause joy to the eyes and his figurines do not bear any other meanings apart from those seen by unaided eye. It is quite possible. But having viewed the exhibition of his works you unwillingly turn out to be in a very strange state - you look at things much more laid-back and cheerful. Maybe this is the touch of that very specific mood which, in accordance with Tuvinian tradition, a real Master should give to those seeking something beautiful?

Our Dear and Beloved Elk. (Instead of the epilogue)

It is accepted to do the summary at the end of any essay. What will the resume of the message of the great shaman, the timeless being, to us, representatives of the Simpsons' generation, look? One of T.Kunga's works stands at some distance from the others. It is the Elk. Its figure is deprived of usual grotesque of Buuyevich. It looks very proportional and full-blooded. The readiness to rush towards the destiny or to repulse the attacks of evil fate with its horns is seen in its figure. It is resistant to external effects and is able to cause inevitable consequences by the slightest movements. The Elk is relaxed and focused at the same time. Cutting this Elk the Master was generous in epithets to its strength and beauty. The only thing which lacks is the Elk's eyes. It has a forehead but does not have eyes. Did the Master want to say that the gift of "vision" was superior to all other gifts? Did he wish us to see the light or he just wanted to say that we should "see" not with the eyes but with our heart? Taras Ghurba. Doctor of Philosophy


*the pictures of the works of art by T.B.Kunga belong to the private collection of T.Ghurba, including Chess of the Destiny and carved miniatures "the Elk" and "the female yak".

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