Celebrating culture

Mongolian Festival features performers, traditional crafters



Dressed in a flowing blue dress, classically trained Mongolian electric violinist Degi took the stage Saturday at the International Mongolian Festival. As she gracefully combined traditional Mongolian themes and sounds, her music evoked images of wild horses and vast lands until a techno beat came into the piece. The music changed, but continued to spur images of Mongolia's vast mountains and plains. As Degi's performance ended, the crowd erupted in applause, demanding an encore.

The International Mongolian Festival offered Bloomington the unique opportunity to experience the performances and arts of Mongolia and Tibet Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Tibetan Cultural Center.

"It is such a treat for us," said Bloomington resident Laura Jesseph "Only in Bloomington would you have the Lotus Fest and a Mongolian Festival on the same weekend."

As a friend of the Norbus, the local Tibetan family that includes the Dalai Lama's older brother Thubten Jigme Norbu, Jesseph played host to a lot of the festival's talent in her own home. She said she enjoyed the opportunity to meet all the performers and watching them meet each other and enjoy Lotus Festival.

Vendors, including the Mongolian Society and the International Tibet Independence Movement, sold items hand-crafted jewelry, traditional silk and wool hats and miniature gers -- representations of ancient Asian nomadic structures.

Vendor Charles Roach sold prayer beads, T-shirts, pins and pictures of the current Dalai Lama for International Tibet Independence Movement at the festival. Roach designs the routes for the organization's peace walks and rides. In 2003, the group held a walk from the Tibetan Cultural Center to Indianapolis.

"It is surprisingly difficult to design these walks," Roach explained. "You can't walk on a superhighway, you need a good shoulder and you need visibility to the press. Then there is the need to access food, bathrooms and resting places."

James Burnham and David Gilroy came to the festival from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Both students have worked with Mongolian culture before. Gilroy conducts environmental research involving Northern Mongolian gold mining. Both had learned about the festival when it was being planned, Gilroy said.

Burnham learned archery while working in Mongolia with the Peace Corps and participated in Sunday's archery demonstration.

Three Mongolian artists displayed crafts for sale in a white yurt, a movable structure that serves as shelter for nomads in Mongolia. They shared huushuur, a traditional Mongolian food of meat and bread, with passersby and attempted to teach them how to play a game with small bones. In the game, each of the four sides of the bone represents one of the domesticated animals in Mongolia -- horse, sheep, camel and goat. Different combinations, one of each or all the same, are good luck.

Damba Tsolmon, who was trained in Mongolia but now lives in the Washington, D.C., area, displayed his original artwork in ink, water color, acrylic and oil mediums.

"They come from my imagination, my memories of Mongolia," Tsolmon said when asked about the basis for his paintings.

Along the side of the pieces was the title in traditional Mongolian script, which is a form of calligraphy, and Tsolmon's signature. He said he has sold paintings to the Smithsonian Institution.

Munkhtsetseg Jalkhaajav, a native of Ulaanbaatar, displayed her portraits of Mongolian women in traditional dress and elaborate hair styles. The colors were bold with a strong focal point line.

"When I paint the hair of women, I feel the lines and movement of the Gobi sands" Mugi said.

Jalkhaajav's husband, Erdenebayar Monkhor also displayed his artwork, which focused on horses, the most important animal to traditional Mongolian life.

"The energy of the horse is expressed in the red color I use. I frame my painting through the door of a ger," Monkhor said.

Through organization and fundraising by Susie Drost, of The Mongolia Society, both Jakhaajav and Monkhor's works will be displayed at the Indiana Memorial Union Gallery throughout September and October.

-- Contact staff writer Maurina Paradise at paradise@indiana.edu.

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