Gankhuyag Natsag

Mongolian Mask Making
Arlington, Virginia

 Photo by: Pat Jarrett

Photo by: Pat Jarrett

The tsam is a Buddhist ritual performed by dancers wearing elaborate costumes and masks. It was introduced to Mongolia in the eighth century, when the Indian saint Lovon Badamjunai sanctified the first Tibetan Buddhist temple. The tsam is a secret and subtle ritual, the meaning of which is often known only to those who perform it. In the 1930s, the Communist government in Mongolia banned the tsam, along with other religious displays. It has since been revived by a number of Mongolian artists, particularly Gankhuyag “Ganna” Natsag, a mask maker and visual artist who was born in Ulaanbaatar. Ganna's parents, famous masters of traditional Mongolian handcrafts, introduced him at an early age to the fine art of making dance masks for the tsam. He now lives in Arlington, where he helps to keep the tsam tradition alive in the city’s growing Mongolian community. Ganna is a prolific artist whose ritual masks and costumes have been exhibited all over the world. He recently helped curate the exhibition Genghis Khan: Bring the Legend to Life at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. Ganna dreams of creating a World Peace Pagoda in Mongolia and met with the Dalai Lama in 2014 to receive his support for the project. He has passed on the tradition of mask making and the accompanying dance to his children, Zanabazar and Maral Gankhuyag.