Charging cords, a strand of hair, thread pulled from a rug — these are the lines connecting and dividing the lives of those in Uuriintuya Dagvasambuu’s painting. The artist draws upon domestic objects and Buddhist symbolism to conjure a fractured interior sense of a virtually hyperconnected but physically isolated existence in the exhibition Moods in the Metaverse. It is a complex encounter with the burdens her subjects, mostly women, carry and a worldview that both differs from and reflects the gendered labor of the pandemic.
A procession of figures hidden behind phones and KN95 face masks approach a curtain from which gloved hands with temperature guns and syringes emerge (“Pandemic Diptych,” 2021). Moods in the Metaverse is new, as in recently created, but the artist’s visual language is centuries old. As a herd of sheep moves in the opposite direction of the diptych’s waiting line, an occupant with a halo of heads goes unnoticed; another woman contains a cluster of tiny human bodies that cling to her torso like a cocoon. The entities with many arms and flaming hair, rendered in a humble fine line, broadly recall the characteristics of Buddhist deities. What better illustration of the work of women in the pandemic than a figure with a thousand arms holding a different tool to ease suffering in each?
Since the 14th century, when Buddhist women had nothing else to serve as a symbolic offering, they could give their hair. Hair embroideries, textiles in which images are made with natural human hair, were a dramatic final appeal for divine intervention. In “Vaccine: First Dose” (2021) a woman cloaked in a curtain of hair tethers visions of domestic and celestial worlds through her strands, which are anchored to a spindle. Several images in this exhibition feel purposefully static, despite theatrical compositions, but “Vaccine: First Dose” is quietly swirling with anxiety as the woman maintains a fragile hold on more than one universe, and additional actors enter from the fray.
Dagvasambuu’s gallery calls her work a New Mongolian Zurag style, but that label only clarifies the art as pictorial and Mongolian. The artist’s fantastical visual vocabulary transcends the certainty of a historic title or the murky waters of national identity. In this latest series, she uses religious and secular iconography to give ethereal form to the trivial thoughts that flutter while passively scrolling online or worrying about the future.
Dagvasambuu respects her subjects’ agency to exploit the possibilities of their online image and real-life labor to transcend the limitations imposed on them. She interprets their waiting and watching as divine and addresses the pandemic without taking gender for granted.
Moods in the Metaverse continues at Sapar Contemporary gallery (9 North Moore Street, Tribeca, Manhattan) through May 23. The exhibition was organized by the gallery.