Uranchimeg “Orna” Tsultem has achieved international acclaim in the field of Mongolian art and Asian art history. In 2014, she established a nonprofit organization that aims to support Mongolian U.S. college students. Tsultem has been called the “leading curator and art historian of Mongolia” and has won numerous awards for her work. She now fittingly serves as the Edgar and Dorothy Fehnel Chair in International Studies at Herron.
In this “Five Questions,” a series of Q&As where we ask various faculty members sage advice and insights about their chosen creative disciplines, Tsulterm discusses her experiences abroad, the unique value in pursuing an arts education, and more.
HERRON: You’ve accumulated a wealth of experience in art history from authoring books and academic journal articles, teaching at six universities, both nationally and abroad, and curating Mongolian art for museum exhibits. What initially sparked your passion for Mongolian art and culture, and what continues to drive you forward within the field?
URANCHIMEG TSULTEM: My research interests are two-fold: one is Buddhist art and the other is contemporary art. My passion for Mongolian art and culture was initially sparked by my own father, Nyam-Osoryn Tsultem (1923-2001), who was an eminent artist of Mongolia and one of the first “professional” artists trained in Moscow during the socialist times. Mongolian art is so rich yet so little is known. It is always exciting to introduce this material to English-speaking audiences around the world.
HERRON: You also serve as Herron’s Edgar and Dorothy Fehnel Chair in International Studies. What is your vision for international studies at Herron?
TSULTEM: I am excited to serve as Herron’s Edgar and Dorothy Fehnel Chair in International Studies. My vision is to expand Herron’s international programs in various ways and to add new courses in Asian art history to our art history curricula.
Herron has established study abroad programs, and our faculty take students to Europe and Southeast Asia every year during spring and summer breaks. As the Fehnel Chair, I would like to work on expanding these programs and finding possibilities to add new destinations, especially in Asia. I am also working on establishing institutional partnerships with art schools in Europe and Asia, which would allow us to increase our international recruitment.
HERRON: You’ve taught art history in no fewer than four countries – Iceland, America, Mongolia, and South Korea. Why is it important for students to study abroad or expand their educational horizons past their country of birth?
TSULTEM: It is extremely important for students to see the world and different cultures. Traveling opens minds in ways the classroom cannot. First-hand experience in new cultures also helps intellectual and artistic growth, as well as teaches maturity.
There is a Mongolian saying that goes, “Seeing once with your own eyes is better than hearing a thousand times.” The world is becoming increasingly globalized, and one can truly understand this reality and learn to have inclusive attitudes towards others when traveling and experiencing the world beyond our home.
HERRON: What can students learn from art history that they can’t learn from another field?
TSULTEM: Art history is truly my life-long passion and devotion. It is akin to philosophy and shares many areas with other humanities and social sciences, such as history, anthropology, literature, archaeology, and many more. Art history allows us to sharpen inquisitive minds and to see and think in many different and exciting ways about, based on, and triggered by visual images.
HERRON: What excites or inspires you outside of your own research?
TSULTEM: Simple things—cooking, movies, nature, music, etc. When I am done with my work, I like to de-stress by cooking good meals for my family with recipes from different cuisines. Based on what I find in my fridge and my pantry, I will cook a Moroccan dish or Hungarian chicken paprikas or Chinese stir-fry. It always helps that my husband and son love my cooking, and we typically have a luscious dinner with freshly baked pastries, salads, entrees, etc.
Cooking really excites me and calms me down. I feel the same about being in nature. I am not a hiker, yet I love sitting or walking while enjoying the landscape. I love feeling a connection with nature. Here in Indiana, I am looking for ways of connecting with this land, the state’s historical past, and Native American heritage.