In 2006, I traveled to India to document the cultural preservation of the Tibetan Exile diaspora in Dharmasala and McCleod Ganj. I had special permission from the Tibetan Exile Government to document all of their facilities and organizations and I spent a month living among the diaspora community.
My work was two-fold. I was documenting the preservation of efforts of a stateless diaspora and how they were able to find identity and celebrate their culture while living in perpetual exile.
But I was also exploring a deeper theory involving pacifism and resistance. While this was more of a personal interest, I was deeply drawn to the tenuous dichotomy between pacifism and the diaspora’s first generation born in exile’s desire to resist the Chinese occupation in their land of origin.
I conducted interviews with young dissenters who were vocally opposing occupation and calling for action that caused friction with the Tibetan Buddhist belief in pacifism. I also interviewed recent refugees, elderly Tibetan monks and nuns who had just traveled on foot, through the Himalayas into Nepal. These elders shared stories of extended confinement and torture in Chinese prisons in the Tibetan Autonomous Region. Yet they held no ill will towards their captors. They left their families and communities behind to make the arduous trek to freedom.
I never quite touched the core of my theories regarding peace and dissent. I couldn’t make the connections of understanding– no Ah Ha moments that sometimes occur when exploring a theory.
My work with the Tibetan culture and community is undone. I am returning to this work in the fall of 2021 at Naropa University and I will specializing in Tibetan Buddhism and Peace with the hopes of returning to document and study the diaspora throughout the world in the years to come.
I began this work in 2006. The world has changed dramatically since then, and not for the better. My own country is in utter turmoil and I am processing the reality that in the coming years I may become a member of a diaspora. I’ve always been drawn to the various struggles and triumphs of diaspora populations fleeing conflict, political persecution and now climate crisis.
I plan to also devote a great deal of scholarly effort into understanding the core principles of Tibetan Buddhism that allowed the Tibetan Government in Exile to care for their diaspora to so well. I witnessed a deep and profound social safety net within their community that was written into the very structures of their public policies.
I hope to understand the infusion of compassion, detachment and service into public policy so that I may interject some sanity into the public discourse surrounding my own country’s woefully cruel and inadequate safety nets.
The Understanding Peace collection is listed on the SignArt platform which is powered by the WAVES blockchain. Proceeds from these sales will help support future field work with the Tibetan Diaspora exploring the concepts mentioned above.
The images created in 2006 were part of a project funded by a Class of 1938 Fellowship from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.