Artist Spreads Mongolian Culture Using Masks


27 February, 2019

Gankhuyag Natsag, also known as Ganna, spends his time spreading Mongolian culture around the world. He does so by creating special masks. The masks are representations of characters that appear in traditional Buddhist dances known as Tsam. The Tsam tradition dates back to Tibet in the 600s.

It did not get to Mongolia until 1811. About 120 years later, the government of the former Soviet Union banned religious activities in Mongolia.

Ganna says the Soviets "destroyed more than 800 temples, including many Buddhist objects." He added that a lot of masks were destroyed during that time. Only about 30 masks survived.

"I first made the Old White Man mask in 1997. Then I decided to make all 108 masks. It took me 10 years. In 2007, I completed all 108 Tsam ritual dance masks."

Ganna was born in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia. He came to the United States in 2002. He has been making Buddhist ritual dance masks for more than twenty years.

Each mask represents a different character and the part they play.

Ganna said, "For example, the Old White Man gives people long life. He is knowledgeable and has wisdom to offer people. When I wear the mask, when I am dancing, I try to tell that story through my movements and dancing."

While Ganna recreated the masks, his family and friends helped him by making the characters' clothing.

He said, "My mother was a famous seamstress and my father was also a very artistic person. I learned a lot from them. I also studied art in school."

It takes Ganna one month to create a mask using clay and a material called papier-mache.

He said, "It takes time. Sitting and making the mask, I think about the character of that mask peacefully inside."

Ganna also created a music and dance group called Khan Bogd. The group has performed in more than 50 countries at celebrations, theaters and museums.

"I would like to introduce Mongolian culture all over the world, through my art and through my masks. That's one of my biggest goals. We need to preserve our culture."

Ganna has a dream project called the World Peace Pagoda. He hopes to build large peace education centers, one in Mongolia and another near Washington, D.C.

He said, "If people are enjoyable and peaceful in themselves...outside our world will be peaceful."

I'm Jonathan Evans.

June Soh reported this story for VOA News. Jonathan Evans adapted it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

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Words in This Story

decoration – n. something that is added to something else to make it more attractive

mask – n. a covering for your face or for part of your face

seamstress – n. a woman who sews clothes, curtains, etc., as a job

unique – adj. used to say that something or someone is unlike anything or anyone else

character – n. a person who appears in a story, book, play, movie, or television show

temple – n. a building for worship