This article is from our New-to-Nevada series, highlighting artists who have recently moved to the state. 

More from the New-to-Nevada series: Michael Plyler, a Utah transplant now in Carson City

Turburam Sandagdorj was born in Mongolia, where he established himself as an illustrator, designer and artist, creating work in book illustration, theater, and the press. Inspired by his father, a fine artist and book illustrator, he mastered the art of cut paper silhouette, where he takes scissors to black paper and cuts out the negative space—he’s named his form of Silhouette Fine Art “Tsagasun Baru.” His control of contrast, in the stark juxtaposition between the black paper and the open white areas, is superb. Beyond his adept control of contrast, working in paper requires that his images maintain a continuity of form and shape. All of the black portions have to be connected, or the image will literally fall apart. His work has been shown in exhibitions across the world, from Mongolia to Japan, Europe and the United States.

“Camel Caravan” is a cut paper piece by Turo from 2014. Photo: courtesy Silk Road House Gallery, Berkeley

Turo moved to the United States in order to have access to a wider art market and a larger community of artists. He lived in Arizona and California before coming to Reno, where he connected with an old friend from Mongolia, Naran Wenger. Naran was a theater director in Mongolia and had collaborated with Turo on a script there. She has helped Turo integrate himself into the community of artists in Reno who make work for Burning Man. She continues to collaborate with him, and participated in the conversation from which this article was drawn.

Turo first contributed a piece to the 2022 Burning Man project “Wild Horses of the American West.” That project, organized by artists Adrian Landon and Rebekah Stetson, brought together over a dozen artists to create a “herd” of equestrian statues for display on the playa. It was intended to raise awareness for the issue of overpopulation of wild horses in the American West. Turo’s contribution was a large-scale, four-sided light box, with silhouette images of horses on each of the sides. His horses flow beautifully, muscular and supple, their manes and tails lashing across the picture plane like the embodiment of the wind itself. The images were initially done in cut paper, then were scanned and transferred, via plasma cutter, to sheet metal—strong enough to withstand the elements. It was the first time he’d translated his technique to sheet metal.

For his contribution to the “Wild Horses of the American West” project, Turo enlarged a cut-paper piece and made his first cut-metal sculpture. Photo courtesy Turburam Sandagdorj

It was far from the first time he’d made images of horses, however. “As a kid I loved horses,” Turo said. “I started drawing when I was 6, and since then I started drawing horses.” Horses are deeply embedded in Mongolian culture—as Turo put it, “Mongolia is the land of the horse.” He mentioned the Mongolian Naadam festival, which includes wrestling, horse-racing and archery. “Horses are very special to Mongols,” he said. “In modern times it’s like a rocket, a jet, a race car.” They are tied both to the long history of Mongolian nomadism (still a vital component of Mongolian culture, where 30% of the population lives a nomadic life), and to the extension of empire, when Genghis Khan utilized them as a vehicle for conquest and communication.

A drawing of “The Spirit of the Healing Siren.” Image courtesy Turburam Sandagdorj

Out in the American West, Turo is drawn to the mustangs. “It’s the symbol of freedom,” he said. “That’s why I love the mustangs, too.” Naran recalled times when the two of them spotted wild horses in the hills of Nevada, and stopped by the side of the road to take a picture: “I close my eyes, and imagine we’re in Mongolia.”

Turo is working on a project for this year’s Burning Man, currently being built at the Generator—“The Spirit of the Healing Siren,” which is a Black Rock City Honorarium Project. Just as the “Wild Horses of the American West” project extended his work into new media, the Healing Siren is extending his practice even further. The Siren is an eight-foot-tall, three dimensional sculpture, and Turo is collaborating with sculptors, lighting engineers, and sound engineers—as well as Funding Lead Lauren Hufft—to bring it to life. 

The figure of the siren—usually part woman, part bird—is drawn from Greek mythology. In Turo’s genderless version, the avian body has an angular, robotic quality, and four human heads sit atop the neck, their peaceful faces all capped with a single, sun-like crown. The image came to Turo while he was sketching at Burning Man last year. “The playa gave me certain ideas, certain dreams,” he said. “I sketched a lot on the playa last year—under the dust, under the sun. I felt blessed that I found this idea.”

“The Spirit of the Healing Siren” is taking shape at the Generator. Image: video still from Mosley Videography.

In Greek myth, the sirens are avatars of destruction, luring sailors to run aground on the rocks, drawn by their beautiful singing. Turo’s siren has been transformed into an avatar of healing, and part of what he’s exploring is the question: “What makes a healing sound?” He’s working with sound engineer Nate Eng (otherwise known as EnigmaBeats) to create a soundscape that will be played, via speakers, as part of the sculpture. It will include over 100 Mongolian bird sounds, as well as Khoomei—Mongolian throat-singing, where sounds of nature are mimicked, and the singer produces a vocal drone simultaneously with harmonic melodies. The audio will be composed for a 24-hour cycle, with each hour being given a different texture. At 6 am, for instance, when the sun rises, the sound of birds will give a feeling of the world waking up.

Turo credits Burning Man, and the communal ethic of the Reno art community, with giving him new avenues for creative expression. “Burning Man gives Reno artists a different mindset, a different inspirational level,” he said. For him, there’s a spiritual dimension to the work. “Why Burning Man is close to my heart—it’s the nomadic lifestyle. The Burning Man build in the desert—nothing is there, it’s just people migrating, settling down, like an oasis of somewhere in the nowhere. They’re just building their life, and creating art. That’s very inspirational to me. It’s just my opinion, but maybe the nomadic lifestyle gives humanity the feeling that all humanity is one—a way to survive on this planet.”

Turburam Sandagdorj’s newest piece, “Spirit of the Healing Siren,”will be on view in the Black Rock Desert during Burning Man, Aug. 27-Sept. 4 (tickets here) and at the Reno Tahoe International Art Show Sept. 14-17 (tickets here).

To learn more about the project, watch Rachel Mosley’s video, “The Spirit of The Healing Siren.”

Follow @sturo.art on Instagram. 

Cover photo courtesy Turburam Sandagdorj

This article was funded by a generous grant from the Nevada Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Posted by Chris Lanier

Chris Lanier is an artist and critic who generally likes to mix things up – words and pictures, video and performance, design and art. He’s had work shown and published in the U.S., Mexico, England, Japan, France, Canada, and Serbia – and has written for The Believer, HiLobrow, Furtherfield, Rhizome, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Comics Journal. He is a Professor of Digital Art at the University of Nevada, Reno at Lake Tahoe (formerly Sierra Nevada College). More at chrislanierart.wordpress.com.