Funding: This exhibition was made possible by a planning grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, a federal agency; the International Folk Art Foundation; the Friends of Folk Art; the Museum of New Mexico Foundation; the Fund for Folk Culture's Conferences and Gatherings Program, underwritten by the Pew Charitable Trusts; and the McCune Charitable Foundation. Additional support was provided by the City of Santa Fe Children and Youth Fund; and an anonymous donor.
Introduction: A Place upon Which to Stand
Many of us, like myself, who come from immigrant backgrounds know what it is like to grow up with multiple traditions. Sometimes, if we are first generation immigrants, the image of the homeland remains quite vivid in the mind’s eye. But as we plant firm roots in our new homes over successive generations, the images may recede gradually. However, for refugees, people living in exile, the picture is quite different. Most immigrants left home voluntarily, while refugees have been forced into exile due to many complicated factors: poverty, racism, political oppression, or war. Tibetans belong to the latter category; that is, they have left their homeland in search of freedom and the desire to live their lives as they see fit. They say they did so to avoid political oppression and religious persecution. Now, 38 years after the Tibetan diaspora began, Tibetan people living in exile still hold firmly to the notion of freedom and self-determination (rang btsan), hoping that their country will be given back to them some day. In fact, living in exile has only strengthened the resolve of Tibetans to regain their homeland.
The problem began when the People’s Republic of China declared Tibet an inextricable part of the "motherland" in the 1950s. Although an agreement was signed between Tibet and China in 1951 to allow China the right to govern external affairs in exchange for internal Tibetan autonomy, it gradually became clear, according to the Tibetan point of view, that the ideals of the agreement were not being realized. Disputes and guerilla warfare increased during that tumultuous decade, ultimately leading to an uprising in Lhasa, Tibet’s capital, in 1959. It was during the uprising that His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama fled to India to seek political asylum. After arriving in India, he was given permission to set up a government-in-exile in the Himalayan hamlet known as Dharamsala. His exodus motivated many other Tibetans to follow, and it is now estimated by the Central Tibetan Administration of the government-in-exile that approximately 130,000 Tibetans live outside of the homeland. Most of these diasporic Tibetans live in South Asia—India, Nepal, and Bhutan--but some have also settled in other parts of Asia, Europe, and North America.
Approximately 1,900 Tibetans live in the United States today. More than half of them came in 1992 as part of a resettlement project designed by the U.S. Immigration Department in consultation with the Tibetan government-in-exile. The project, organized around a lottery process, allowed 1,000 randomly chosen Tibetans the possibility to come to the United States. "Cluster sites" were arranged in a number of American cities so that the exile community would not be too widely dispersed. With the assistance of American sponsors, who took it upon themselves to provide temporary homes for these new immigrants, Tibetans slowly entered into a new world, one radically different from either India or Tibet.
Santa Fe/Albuquerque was designated a cluster site, and approximately 40 Tibetans took up residence in New Mexico as a result. Although a few Tibetans were already in the state, the resettlement project facilitated the introduction of yet one more ethnic community into our already diverse cultural landscape. Today, as more and more Tibetans are becoming American citizens, they are beginning to bring their families from abroad. As a result of this, the Tibetan community is planting firm roots here. Part of this exhibition will introduce visitors to Tibetan friends licing in New Mexico through photographs and narratives, but the larger goal of the exhibition is to share some of the exile experiences of the Tibetan people more broadly conceived. Our intention in putting together this exhibition is to provide you with glimpses of Tibetan life in the diaspora.When the iron bird flies and horses run on wheels, the Tibetan people will be scattered like ants across the face of the earth, and the dharma will come to the land of the red men.
--prophecy attributed to the eighth-century Indian sage Padmasambhava
The Exhibition Plan
Tashi Delek!: The Santa Fe Community of Tibetans
As you enter the main hallway leading to the exhibit, you see an entrance on your left. When you enter, you notice photographs on your right. The photographs were taken by Kitty Leaken, a Santa Fe-based photographer who has documented the local Tibetan community since its members began arriving in 1992. By viewing them, you can get to know each member of the community. You should also get a sense of their daily lives here in New Mexico, as well as how they manage to navigate a middle path between American and Tibetan life. Lastly, you will have the opportunity to learn more about three members of the community, whose experiences are highlighted through more in-depth photographic profiles.
The Mandala Hall
You notice a number of thangka paintings hanging opposite the photographs. Some are old, while the modern ones are the creations of two local painters: Dorjee Gyaltsen and Gendun Sakyal. The paintings are essentially religious and are used by Buddhists as meditative aids. Their sacred nature should set the serene mood for the mandala. The mandala, made of fine, colored sand is the creation of the Venerable Lobsang Samten, a former Buddhist monk, and Thubten Chpnyi, his assistant. Simply stated, a mandala (Tibetan dkyil‘khor) in Sanskrit means "circle," which implies both a basic geometric design as well as a circle of people who come together for a common concern. There are many different kinds of mandalas created for numerous purposes. The one you will see here is a kalachakra, or Wheel of Time, mandala, which has become the most important one to be constructed in exile. Once a sand mandala has served its purpose it is usually destroyed, as the one in our gallery was at conclusion of the exhibition, March 14,1999.
After you have viewed the photographs, paintings, videos, and mandala, please take the opportunity to view the children’s paintingsl, where you will see another aspect of Tibetan culture in exile. The children’s paintings on display were painted by Tibetan youth living at the Tibetan Homes Foundation (THF) in mountainous Mussoorie, India. As with the photographs, we intentionally combine visual images with words to convey to the visitor something about the experiences of these young artists. The paintings are divided into thematic sections pertaining to different aspects of refugee life. The first section deals with leaving home, the flight from Tibet. The second shows scenes of everyday life at THF. Many of the children wanted to paint political impressions about what they perceive to be oppressive conditions in the homeland, which is, of course, the root reason why they left Tibet in the first place. The section ends on a positive note, however, since the last painting clearly suggests good wishes for future peace to replace the present discord between China and Tibet. A third section is a reflection on images of home. This section suggests some typical examples of the kinds of things these gifted children wish to imagine: idyllic scenes of a time in the past during which life was fun, or in the future when things will be better.
The Living Room
There were two interactive areas for the visitor’s enjoyment. The living room has been created as a place to rest and learn more about Tibet by reading, playing games, listening to Tibetan music, or contributing to the completion of a mandala puzzle.
The Tent Area
There is was a tent area consisting of a tent made especially for us by Tashi Woser, whose picture is included. In it, children can imagine what it might be like to go on a picnic in Tibet. There was also a dri (female yak) outside of the tent. Children can play at milking her, after which they can learn about the process of making special Tibetan tea from beginning to end.
We hope that when you experience this exhibition you will understand a bit more about Tibet and its people. However, we also hope that the numerous facets of Tibetan culture in exile on display here will allow you to reflect on what home means to you, and to the importance of wise traditional sayings such as "home is where the heart is."
At Home Away from Home: Tibertan Culture in Exile
Curated by former Curator of Asian & Middle Eastern Collections, Frank J. Korom, Ph.D.
Dr. Korom is now teaching at Boston University
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