Gantuya Badamgarav, or Gana to her family and friends, loved arts, music and mathematics from a young age. However, growing up in a rural, provincial capital in 1970s Mongolia didn’t provide many artistic opportunities. So, Gana followed her interest in mathematics and earned her BA in economic planning from Saint Petersburg University of Finance and Economics, Russia and MA in macro-economic policy from Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts as a 2005-2006 Fulbright Student. How, then, did she become one of the leading figures of Mongolia’s contemporary art scene?
“The social mindset and obscurity of the political system in my country felt very heavy to me. It was hard to imagine of working for the government as an economist and to achieve something good” Gana says, but she saw a way forward. “I wanted to bring positive changes to the society through art.”
Following her Fulbright experience, Gana worked as an economic analyst and consultant at international organizations such as the Asian Development Bank, U.S. Agency for International Development, and corporations like Max Group and Tavan Bogd Group. Yet, her love for art kept calling and she ultimately quit her successful career in economics and business to found Art Space 976+ (formerly 976 Gallery).
Her background actually helped Gana shape Art Space 976+ into a cultural hub, hosting back-to-back exhibitions, performances, and open discussions with leading contemporary artists. However, soon after opening the gallery, Gana realized that the Mongolian contemporary art scene needed significantly more support and she established the non-government organization Mongolian Contemporary Art Support Association (MCASA) to promote art in Mongolia and help Mongolian artists achieve worldwide recognition. Through MCASA, Gana united people and organizations to channel their passion and resources towards increasing the international visibility of Mongolian art. In 2015, MCASA initiated and commissioned first ever Mongolia Pavilion at the La Biennale and continued to put Mongolian art on the global stage in 2017 and 2019.
Gana has collaborated with the U.S. Embassy on many different projects and exhibitions. She has depicted social, political and environmental issues in the Lost Children of Heaven 1 and 2 Exhibition, worked with other artists to interpret the process and results of “The Archaeology of the Tarvagatai Valley,” a collaboration between the Institute of Archaeology of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences and Yale University under the U.S. Department of State sponsored STRAX Program, and addressed local community issues by engaging youth, artists, and underserved community members through the U.S. Department of State and ZERO1 sponsored American Arts Incubator Program.
Since 2008, Gana also started working to protect the rights of people with disabilities. As a founding member of the Mongolian Association of State Alumni (MASA), a MASA board member, and its Vice President, Gana worked on MASA’s BidChadna project. The project, funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund (AEIF), is a special database that assists skilled people and entrepreneurs with mobility impairments to sell and promote their services and products and find employment. BidChadna was later established as a non-government organization to promote equal opportunity and disability rights and employment. Disability rights became a cause near and close to Gana’s heart after her sister, Otgontuya, got into a car accident in 2001 that caused mobility impairment. Currently, Gana is a member of another AEIF-funded project, “Crossroads,” a storytelling platform that highlights the individual experiences of women and girls with disabilities across Mongolia to encourage public discourse on disability rights. Gana hopes the project will amplify these important voices to spark change among Mongolian policy makers and civil society.
With her unique background that blends economics with arts and disability rights, Gana is continuing to explore her passions and advocate for contemporary arts and people with disabilities in Mongolia.