Image 1. Urjinkhand Onon in her studio, 2012. Photograph by Batzaya Enkhbayar.
Urjinkhand Onon or Urjee (b. 1979) is a Mongolian artist who uses traditional Mongolian miniature painting or Mongol Zurag  techniques to create her art works. For many in Mongolia, she is known for her elaborate pieces which are both visually distinct but thematically complex.
When you first lay your eyes on her works, you will be immediately drawn to the stunning details and it is likely that you will come to a quick conclusion. The conclusion in question stems from this specific technique of art making or people call it as Mongol Zurag. For your disappointment, you will find neither Chingghis Khaan nor his hordes with their ancient armors and warrior outfits in her works. Instead, you will see a series of social commentaries based on her personal life, her family and her experiences of being a woman in modern-day Mongolia.
Urjee graduated from the Institute of Fine Art (IFA) in Ulaanbaatar, the oldest and the most prestigious fine art establishment in Mongolia under the direction of Narmandakh Tsultem in 2002. After taking nearly five years out raising her children, Urjee started to practice art again in 2008. From the experience of being a mother, she developed a perspective which would inform her art practice. She no longer wanted to depict the glorious days of the Mongol Empire or its world-famous subjects which are the usual presuppositions for artists who utilise Mongol Zurag techniques.
One of her first works titled In Their Hands (2009) (See Image 2), shows three layers of a society. On the top: there are men with power, in the middle; there is a woman who is struggling to deal with her competing priorities and in the bottom layer; you will see a lone man and a child along with stray dogs.
Image 2. In Their Hands, 2009.
In Time Will Unravel Everything (2010) (See Image 3), Urjee portrayed a female face with many eyes and everything else is covered by colourful leaves. She wants you to see what’s underneath those leaves but at the same time, she keeps her message ambiguous. In one sentence, this piece could be read as “I am watching everything!”
Image 3. Time Will Unravel Everything (2010)
Increasingly, she has started to use repetitive depictions of ‘eyes’, ‘lips’ and ‘flowers’ in her works. Especially, it is evident in Pendants (2010) (See Image 4), where the main subject’s body is pierced through by transparent and colourful human eyes of varying sizes. Furthermore, each eye has a story to tell. The bright colours of Urjee’s works are very deceiving and work as thin layers barely covering the seriousness of her chosen themes . You need to see pass these strangely cheerful surfaces of Urjee’s works and inspect them closely in order to understand her messages.
As I mentioned above, I see her works as social commentaries rather than criticisms of a Mongolian society. During my visit her studio in Ulaanbaatar in January 2012, I had an extensive discussion with Urjee about her art practice. I asked why she decided to portray her life, her experience of being a mother and a woman. She replied: “Because it makes sense to me, because it is real and I have a need to express these feelings”. Often, I encouraged artists in Mongolia to comment or reflect the Mongolian society rather than visiting the history of the Mongol Empire. Slowly but surely, some Mongolian artists started to do that and Urjee is one of those artists are who are taking those steps.
Artist, Curator, Ph.D. Candidate in Contemporary Visual Art Practice
Leeds Metropolitan University, UK
 Mongol Zurag can be translated as ‘Mongolian painting’ in English. It is a type of miniature painting technique derived from Tibetan Thangka Painting. There is very little research has been done in Mongol Zurag and the art form is virtually unknown worldwide due to its similarity to Tibetan Thangka Painting, Chinese Painting and many other Asian Paintings. Many graduates from the Institute of Fine Art, University of Art and Culture in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, make art works using Mongol Zurag.