Rebgong is located in the Amdo Tibetan region in northwestern China. Rebgong is well-known for its Tibetan Thangka art. Tibetan Thangka serves as important tool of teaching and meditation in Tibetan Buddhism. Currently, Tibetan Thangka painting is part of, and circulates within China’s national art market. The number of visitors in the area, the mobility of the painters, the material conditions, and the scale of the Thangka market have been rapidly increasing. In the talk, I will discuss how Tibetan Thangka painters relate to Thangka, how they relate to each other through Thangka, and how they relate to themselves in times of change. My talk will reveal that as thangka transforms from a sacred object to commodity, rural ethics and social practices associated with thangka painting are changing, and give rise to the individualism favored by the market economy.
Ming Xue is currently a post-doctoral research scholar at the American Museum of Natural History, New York City, and a documentary filmmaker. She received her Ph.D. from the Department of Anthropology, University of California, Los Angeles. Her research focuses on interpersonal relationships, art commerce, and social changes in China. Since 2009, she has been conducting fieldwork in Huangnan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (Rebgong) in Qinghai province in China. Her current research bridges together material cultural studies and an anthropological discourse on ethnicity to reveal how Rebgong Tibetans make sense of their art, culture, and lives in times of tremendous social change.