An Interview with Natsag "GanNa" Gankhuyag, Artist

"The most beautiful thing is a kind heart..."




Gankhuyag was born of the Natsag family in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, on December 2, 1961. His parents were master Tsam masks sculptures, in the traditional Mongolian style, and GanNa learned much from them.

After completing school, GanNa worked for the Union of Mongolian Artists. He participated in many traditional festivals and exhibitions with the first being held in Germany in 1992.

GanNa's list of accomplishments include his tenure with the groups "Tumen Erkh" and "Temuzhin Monkh," as well as with the National Folk, Song and Dance Ensemble of Mongolia, but he is best known for his creation of the "five meter high" Buddha statue in the temple "Gunzeshoinei" in St Petersburg, shown to the right, and his 10 year effort to return to the world "Khuree Tsam-108" collection of 108 traditional Mongolian masks and costumes.

TMMS: Soon the public will enjoy the 108 tsam performance created by your effort. Let us first talk how you became involved with tsam masks and tsam art?

GANNA: I became involved with tsam starting from over 20 years ago. Together with artist A.Batbold and a group of other artists I used to produce small tsam masks and souvenirs. In 1997, by making 108 puppy models of tsam and obtaining first license for them, I started a project of making tsam masks and attire.

TMMS: It is interesting to hear a history 10 years ago. Did you have sufficient financial resources for making the tsam at that time?

GANNA: There was no such resource. Even today there is no resource also. I had an idea of making tsam, tsam masks and puppets and applied for a loan from Ard Bank at that time, but no success.

TMMS: I heard that you made dance masks and accessories for tsam performance in France.

GANNA: I remember Alexander, a person who first organized Mongolian tsam performance in France in 1999 was very deeply impressed when he entered our atelier. He said: "By our cooperation we can implement our project"...At that time there were many tsam pieces in my atelier in Ulaanbaatar.

TMMS: Did you receive requests to do tsam from many places?

GANNA: There were orders from several European museums, monasteries and some individuals. I also did tsam by the order of world mask museum located in Belgium.    

TMMS: I heard that a five meter high Buddha made by you was displayed in Leningrad.

GANNA: Yes. There is a Mongolian monastery established in then Leningrad during 1900-1905. By the order of that monastery I stayed there to make a five meter Buddha statue in 1993. I mastered that Buddha statue.  I felt how mud could become alive there. Mr.G.Yavgaan brought holy ashes of Tilopa Khutagtu from USA to fill up the statue. Throne and shun mur were carved by red sandalwood.

TMMS: You worked in US and Europe for several years. I guess in America there is a different way of USING human resources and value intellectual labour. Would you comment on that?

GANNA: First I went to Switzerland in 1997 with my puppies. I felt much more deeper that a country is developed on the base of using human resources and exerting each and every one's potential. Nowadays, in Mongolia there is a lot of talk going on resources such as material richness, natural resources and resource fields, excluding human resource...I think Mongolia can develop by valuing its people and getting intellectual support from them.

TMMS: Seems your students trained by you are have so much achievements. A team of Atarbaatar, Director of "Khaan Nuudel" is doing costumes and articles of several movies of different countries.

GANNA: You can say that I inherited my atelier to Atarbaatar and others. They are now grown ups. They have a private company and administration...They are working now on creating "XIII Century" complex. 

TMMS: I have just remembered that I heard from one of your friends that you sent almost a full "box" of material for a competition announced by Moscow radio for World Youth and Student Great Festival and got the first prize. Seems you are lucky in participating in competitions of foreign countries, aren't you?

GANNA: I received the first prize from Moscow radio hosted competition and was invited to participate in Great Festival in Moscow. I think it was in 1985. I did drawings for each material of that question and answer competition and it was quite a lot of work. I guess it was an expression of my character to do something as best as I can. Indeed, it was a full box of material. I usually participated in different competitions announced from the radio.

TMMS: You established a company beside the "Goo yertunts". Why did you name it "Bi Bid" (I and We)?

GANNA: Every person is I. Many "I's" combine "We". If one does not think "I", there is nobody then. If "I's" get together for unity a powerful "We" can be created. The meaning of the name is the notion that we have to collect together in harmony so that we become powerful and create a lot of good. This company is established by me together with my siblings. My elder brother N.Gansukh, younger brother N.Ganbold (Best Worker of Art) are working on establishing Mongolian cultural centers in Scandinavia and European countries. There were less people, who were trained in art and culture, but now almost all children of my siblings are studying in art schools and some of them are graduating. I think this is due to the influence of "I and We". 

TMMS: Birth place and environment define a person in some extend.

GANNA: My mother's name is Sh.Khand, from Baatsagaan soum (smaller administrative unit) of Bayanhongor province and she was a master in every bits. My father's name is N.Natsag, from Zag soum and he was also very good artist. All children in the family were brought up close to sewing, embroidery, needles and threads.

TMMS: I heard that your society would establish "Mongolian House" or Cultural and Art Center of World Piece in US and Europe. Would you clarity that?

GANNA: These centers are established in order to promote and spread Mongolian art and culture from America and Europe. Many activities are planned based on the triple connection of Mongolia, Europe and America.

TMMS: Why you defined the name including Piece?   

GANNA: Buddhism gives importance to mental piece and regards it as the happiness. Therefore, the name symbolizes presenting of mental happiness to people.

TMMS: It has been several years since you are living in America with your family. Have you already created a good living and working condition there?

GANNA: Yes. I live with my wife, daughter Zanabazar and daughter Maral in the US. Whatever I earn, I transfer to the funds of tsam project. If I decided to live in America without doing this kind of work, but just live relaxing, I would have much more living conditions. But the mental beauty is the best beauty. 

TMMS: I felt that making 108 tsam is an enormous work during my meetings with your artists. It is clear that it requires a big funding and human capacity. How did you manage to accomplish all this without having a major sponsor but just on your own? History records that this kind of work was carried out under Bogd Khaan's (the State Head and Monarch of Mongolia prior revolution) auspices?

GANNA: There is a saying that "If you have fire in your mind, you can find fire in the stove". When I first talked about making 108 tsam masks, attire and accessories my family thought it was a tale. I think we have to promote this precious heritage not only abroad but also in Mongolia as well.

TMMS: You send many young people to present their concerts abroad and organize the concerts as well. "Khan Bogd" ensemble which you established is very prominent in France, Belgium and other European countries and there are many fans who look forward to coming of the ensemble.

GANNA: For the last 7-8 years, I have been organizing tours of Mongolian young artists. Our ensemble leaves good impressions wherever it visits. Although they do not earn much money, they enjoy visiting other countries and promoting their country abroad. I have no doubt that through this art and cultural events, the number of visitors of Mongolia is increasing.

TMMS: I heard that you wrote "Jamsran ballad or Red Protector Poem" and also you were planning to produce a documentary fiction "Milk Offering". So you also work lots of paper.

GANNA: I'm interested in writing. I'm not as qualified as writers. "Milk offering" is a story of kindness of Mongolian personality. It not possible to avoid topics of human mind and kindness of the heart. Probably D.Enkhgerel will present the musical "Jamsran ballad or Red Protector Poem". Documentary of "Milk offering" and Khuree tsam will do done by UBS TV.

TMMS: I am sure you had some adventure when traveling in many countries like a nomad. Was there any incident which made you proud. Would you say such a memory?

GANNA: When I was in Switzerland, I had to travel to Italy. At that time, I was learning to drive. There were many roads through the Alps and it was dangerous to travel on those mountain roads. The roads are very narrow where two vehicles can barely pass each other...I had a car and my Swiss friends with me. It was difficult for me to say I could not drive as we already had started the trip...Somehow we reached the destination. When I reached the placed I told to my friends that I was just a beginner in driving and they almost fainted. Upon hearing that some of them refused to travel with me back. This is an example a Mongol can overcome any difficulty if one is imposed to. 

I am proud to think that we made 108 tsams... We started crafting 108 tsams in 1998. This work requires a lot of effort, funding and time. Only through a good team of professionals and qualified masters we could complete this project. I would like to say that the project work was not easy at all due to the fact that it was not funded by any foreign loan, program or project, or state budget, but our own capacity and financial resources. However, the work was never halted or delayed. We completed doing a set of 108 tsam masks, attire and accessories by the contribution of union of artists. In my case, there was not a detail left out which I was not involved, I met with the artists everyday, checked their work, gave suggestions and instructions, negotiated and allotted salaries, supplied with materials and connected them to each other. Many people contributed by their hands, hearts and intelligence to the completion of the set of 108 tsams. Only people who crafted all 108 tsam set can feel much more how hard it is to finish them as the number is not only six or seven. Therefore, I'm very proud to see the work accomplished. Khuree tsam 108 resulted from mental, visual and hand skills of these qualified masters is touring the world promoting Mongolian culture and art. I am proud to think that I and we created this.

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