The renowned Mongolian mask maker N.Gankhuyag Natsag, known as Ganna, makes the elaborate representations of characters that appear in traditional Buddhist temple dances.
N.Gankhuyag was born in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia and immigrated to the U.S in 2002. He now lives in Arlington, Virginia where there is a big Mongolian community. He has been making Buddhist ritual dance masks for more than two decades.
Over a ten-year period ending in 2007, Ganna lovingly made all 108 Khuree Tsam as the masks are called. His favorite is still the first one he made, the Old White Man, Chaganb Ebugan. The Old White Man has a lot of wisdom to offer people.
Ganna has performed the Old White Man in traditional dances with the music and dance ensemble he started called Khan Bogd. The group has performed in more than 50 countries at festivals, theaters and museums.
Ganna has a dream project called the World Peace Pagoda. He hopes to build large scale peace education centers, one in Mongolia and another outside Washington.
The traditional Tsam dancing and mask tradition is an integral part of Tibetan Buddhism. During the communist purges of the 1930’s thousands of monks were executed and imprisoned. “They destroyed more than 800 temples, including many Buddhist objects. A lot of masks were destroyed during that time,” Ganna says.
Aterwards, only about 30 masks survived. Knowing that has contributed to Ganna’s devotion to the masks. Many of the ones he makes go directly to museums around the world.