Spotlight: Zaya

Paying tribute to Mongolia’s history and cultural heritage through his magical paintings, Zaya (born 1975) is a Mongolian artist that blends traditional painting with contemporary Asian art. He was born under the name of Zayasaikhan Sambuu, in a small town in the Gobi desert, where the teachings of Buddhism and the vividness of Tibetan art fascinated him. For a while, Zaya even wanted to become a monk.

Zaya’s main inspiration has always been nomadic women, their elegance, selflessness and strength, in his view, being god-like. The women in his paintings are often based on royal historical figures from Mongolia’s past, with their costumes carefully documented.


This is what Zaya had to say about the role of women in his art:

“I believe I may have found the real deity to draw. And that deity is Women. Especially, Mongolia’s nomadic women, their close relations with nature, their hard life out on the harsh Mongolian steppe, their unique inner-world, and the customs and traditions they carry on, give me tremendous inspiration and subject matter for most of my work. Through the distinctive features of those Mongolian women’s expressions, I try to tell a secret that has never been told, of happiness and misery, of humanity’s relations with nature, and of history and contemporary lives and how they connect with us.”

You can view more of Zaya’s paintings here.

8 thoughts on “Spotlight: Zaya

  1. I like the girl with the fish (an arowana to be precise). I have to wonder about his subject, lovely as it is. In an interview I watched the other day Francis Bacon nailed something, as he often does, which was that an artist’s portrait painting of someone else is always also a self-portrait. The “subject” is someone else, but the “object” of the painting reflects all of the artist’s likes, desires, wishes, understanding, conclusions, and so on.

    In this way these portraits are not as much of the nomadic women themselves, but of the artist’s conception of them, and perhaps idealization of them. And here my feminist training is coming out, in a sorta’ good way, in that there’s the male’s projection of femininity, which is not the same thing as the identity of people who are female. Is this how the women and girls see themselves? Does it shade into souvenirs?

    Alas, even in a self-portrait, how much is real insight and how much is just ways of seeing people we’ve learned from others.

    Lovely paintings.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree, these portraits are clearly idealized and fictionalized. The history of a nation itself is often edited to focus on the positive.

      “Every painter paints himself”, I’m sure I’ve heard this somewhere, and it makes sense. Just like we, the viewers, project ourselves onto the canvas, in our interpretation. But an artist can also project the collective ideas of beauty and femininity as reflected by their culture and I think Zaya achieves just that.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s