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Artist Installing Powerful Sculpture at Nelson-Atkins


My Father’s Death Evokes Memory, Loss

Kansas City, MO. Oct.4, 2023–An intimate exhibition that showcases a recent contemporary art acquisition rooted in Buddhist culture and personal history opens Oct. 28 at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. With My Father’s Death, contemporary Tibetan-born artist Sonam Dolma Brauen (b. 1953) presents an assemblage consisting of 49 discarded Tibetan monk’s robes, carefully folded and stacked to form a square with a well in the center. Dolma Brauen will travel to Kansas City from her home in Switzerland to personally install My Father’s Death.

“This assemblage is minimalist in form but deeply, powerfully symbolic,” said Julián Zugazagoitia, Director & CEO of the Nelson-Atkins. “While the work is based upon the personal histories of Sonam’s family, the themes she addresses, those of memory, loss, love, and commemoration, are universal. I find it to be a profoundly moving work.”Detail: My Father's Death Sculpture by Sonam Dolma Brauen

When Dolma Brauen was six years old, she and her family fled Tibet during the Cultural Revolution. All that her parents were able to carry with them was a reliquary-shaped object from their family altar. Her father, a Tibetan Buddhist monk, died later in India. At that difficult time, Dolma Brauen’s mother was unable to give her husband a proper burial and funeral. In My Father’s Death, Dolma Brauen placed nine molded plaster tsa tsas (conical forms used as votive offerings) placed inside the well, evoking the function of a reliquary.

“This contemporary installation is firmly rooted in Tibetan Buddhist beliefs,” said Kimberly Masteller, Jeanne McCray Beals Curator of South and Southeast Asian Art. “In Tibetan Buddhist thought, each its components, robes that a monk wore and discarded, or a votive tsa tsa made for a funeral ritual, would point symbolically to or even carry traces of the spiritual presence of the person associated with it.”

Dolma Brauen and her mother lived as refugees in India before emigrating to Europe. After attending art school in Switzerland and working later in New York, she began to explore philosophic and social themes through sculpture and installations. Created in New York, My Father’s Death and its exploration of memory and loss has made it one of her most exhibited works. Former Nelson-Atkins curator of Contemporary Art, Leesa Fanning, encountered My Father’s Death and included it in her book, Encountering the Spiritual in Contemporary Art (2018), which is available for purchase in the museum store. Brauen and her husband gave the installation to the museum in Fanning’s honor.

This emotional work uses the visual language of minimalism in combination with powerful personal and religious meanings associated with these objects to create a provocative installation. It will be exhibited with examples of historical Buddhist art that demonstrate how Dolma Brauen’s work intersects with traditional religious art and cultural practices. Sonam Dolma Brauen: My Father’s Death will be on view until November 11, 2024.


Programming associated with this exhibition includes:

Ritual and Remembrance: An Artist Talk with Sonam Dolma Brauen
Sunday, October 29, 2023. 2-3 p.m.
$16 public / $12 members
Atkins Auditorium

Visiting Tibetan-born artist Sonam Dolma Brauen sits down with independent curator and former Nelson-Atkins curator Leesa Fanning for a conversation about her life and work, including her installation on view: My Father’s Death. Through her repetition and reconfiguration of traditional materials, Sonam brings into modern physical form Buddhist beliefs and practices. My Father’s Death combines folded and layered worn monk’s robes surrounding a group of votive offerings in remembrance of her father, a Buddhist monk who died after leading the family out of Tibet, across the Himalayas on foot, to India.

Tsa Tsa Workshop
2 Session Class | 120 min
10:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 28–29
Classroom 4
$100 public / $80 Members
Adults 16+
Instructor: Sonam Dolma Brauen

Artist Sonam Dolma Brauen will share her creative process and her newly installed work entitled My Father’s Death. She will then lead participants in creating Tsa Tsa, which are sometimes made in Tibet for funeral rituals and memorial purposes. Participants are welcome to bring small mementos to cast inside their tsa tsa. Completed tsa tsa sculptures may be taken home after class or left as votive offerings with the Dia de los Muertos community altar in Kirkwood Hall. Supplies included.

Across Many Mountains: A Tibetan Family’s Epic Journey from Oppression to Freedom by Yangzom Brauen
11:00 am
Saturday, January 13, 2024
Spencer Art Reference Library

Join curator Kimberly Masteller, the Jeanne McCray Beals Curator of South and Southeast Asian Art, and Spencer Art Reference Library staff Amelia Nelson and Stephanie Lawrence in a discussion of Yangzom Brauen’s memoir Across Many Mountains: A Tibetan Family’s Epic Journey from Oppression to Freedom. This free library program supports the exhibition Sonam Dolma Brauen, My Father’s Death (October 28, 2023 – November 11, 2024). Author Yangzom Brauen is the daughter of Nelson-Atkins featured Tibetan artist Sonam Dolma Brauen. Her memoir honors family traditions by recounting experiences and memories with themes that resonate across cultures. Sonam Dolma Brauen’s contemporary art exhibition memorializes the loss of her father and homeland through the lens of her family’s Buddhist tradition.

Brauen’s memoir Across Many Mountains is available for purchase in the museum store.

Image caption: Sonam Dolma Brauen (Swiss, born in Tibet, 1953). My Father’s Death, 2010 (details). Cloth and plaster, 49 cast-off monk’s robes, 2 vests, and 9 molded plaster tsa tsa, dimensions variable. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Gift of Sonam Dolma and Martin Brauen in honor of Leesa Fanning, 2020.19.1-60. Image: Martin Brauen, Bern, Switzerland.

Organized by The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. This exhibition is generously supported by Lilly Endowment Inc.

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

The Nelson-Atkins in Kansas City is recognized nationally and internationally as one of America’s finest art museums. The museum opens its doors free of charge to people of all backgrounds.

The Nelson-Atkins serves the community by providing access to its renowned collection of more than 42,000 art objects and is best known for its Asian art, European and American paintings, photography, modern sculpture, and Native American and Egyptian galleries. Housing a major art research library and the Ford Learning Center, the Museum is a key educational resource for the region. In 2017, the Nelson-Atkins celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the Bloch Building, a critically acclaimed addition to the original 1933 Nelson-Atkins Building.

The Nelson-Atkins is located at 45th and Oak Streets, Kansas City, MO. Hours are 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Friday through Monday; 10 a.m.–9 p.m. Thursday; closed Tuesday and Wednesday. Admission to the museum is free to everyone. For museum information, phone 816.751.1ART (1278) or visit nelson-atkins.org.

For media interested in receiving further information, please contact:

Kathleen Leighton, Manager, Media Relations and Video Production
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art