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Artist and Curator: Meet MMC Alum Ben Paljor Chatag ’15

Ben Paljor Chatag ’15 left Tibet as a young boy to attend a Tibetan boarding school alongside other refugees in Northern India. This was just the beginning of major moves that would profoundly impact his life. At 15 years-old, he came to the United States when he was adopted by his Tibetan grandfather and later by his Western mother.

Chatag’s grandfather profoundly impacted his life and taught him about the value of positivity, openness, helping others, and being a better person.

When Chatag transferred to Marymount Manhattan College as a junior, he decided to pursue a major in International Studies and a minor in Studio Art. He was quickly inspired by his mentor and teacher, Professor Hallie Cohen, to blend his passions for both subjects by double-majoring.

Allen Ginsberg Photo on display at 'Transforming Minds,' an exhibition co-curated by Ben Palj... Allen Ginsberg Photo on display at ‘Transforming Minds,' an exhibition co-curated by Ben Paljor Chatag at the Tibet House.
(Philip Glass, Gelek Rimpoche, Allen Ginsberg, Michigan 1989)
After graduating from MMC in 2015, Ben earned his M.F.A. from the Maryland Institute College of Art, Mount Royal School of Art in 2020. Chatag is now a working artist who currently has an exhibition he curated on display in New York City.

Ben’s Unique Path

How have your childhood experiences influenced your work as an artist and curator?

BPC: Being born in Tibet, I was immersed from an early age in a Tibetan spiritual culture and I was especially fascinated by Tibetan traditional paintings.

When I was a child, my grandmother regularly took me to temples/monasteries and spent hours explaining these unique wall paintings. Each has its own story. I think maybe that’s why I like storying telling, both as an artist and curator.

You currently have an exhibition on display at Tibet House US Gallery in New York City. Tell us a bit about this project and what inspired you to co-curate it.

From Ben Paljor Chatag's ongoing Melong Series(Watercolor on paper 2021) From Ben Paljor Chatag's ongoing Melong Series
(Watercolor on paper 2021)
The show is called Transforming Minds: Kyabje Gelek Rimpoche and Friends, Photographs by Allen Ginsberg 1989-1997. We actually started planning this project a few years ago after Gelek Rimpoche, one of the great Tibetan Buddhist teachers in the West, passed away. Rimpoche was Allen Ginsberg’s Buddhist teacher and friend since the late 1980s when they met until Allen’s death in 1997. Allen was not only a great poet, but a serious photographer with a deep interest in spiritual practice and Tibetan Buddhism. These photos in the show focus on Allen’s life with Rimpoche and other friends, including Philip Glass, Patti Smith, and Francesco Clemente.

“I was inspired to curate the show because Rimpoche was my grandfather. I thought it was important to show pictures of Rimpoche and people around him interested in transforming their minds and society through love and compassion, which is what we continue to need in today’s world.”

In addition to the current art exhibition at the Tibet House US Gallery, you were a resident artist at 77ART in Vermont this past summer. How have you landed these opportunities—and what advice would you give to students at the College who wish to follow in your footsteps?

Ben Paljor Chatag's 108 Series Watercolor on Paper (2021) Ben Paljor Chatag's 108 Series
Watercolor on Paper (2021)
I was so lucky to be part of 77Art residency in Vermont. I applied for some residencies while in graduate school which were delayed due to Covid. 77Art came through unexpectedly. I am not sure anyone should follow in my footsteps, but I believe you should keep following your passion and not lose your hope. Opportunities will open and you have to be patient and keep working on what you love in the meantime.

What impact did cross-disciplinary studies at MMC have on your career?

BPC: For me, both are related to ways to make a difference, and art is a way to present perspectives or approaches one might not otherwise see. It was a great balance for me, double-majoring. Professor Cohen was a wonderful mentor and she encouraged me to get involved in Western Art. She encouraged me to follow my passion.

Congratulations Ben on all your success! The MMC community is incredibly proud.

Published: September 30, 2021