Towards the last two months of my last visit to India in the spring of 2012, I encountered the Tibetan community in exile in India experiencing painful news of their people self-immolating in fire one after another in China-occupied Tibet. My experiences in the past visits in India (drawing a cremation site in Varanasi, documenting fire pits, cremation alters, and contemplating on life and death around fire) synchronized with this particular movement, an extreme way of ‘offering’ their bodies to ‘fire’ for asking freedom and peace.I could not help drawing large and small drawings as emotional response and with a sense of mourning.

After coming back to Vancouver, the self-immolation kept happening and I felt that my personal and professional task is not finished.

I have come back to India to continue to document and draw under the same theme.

15 April 2017

For Wangchuk Tseten April 15 2017

For Wangchuk Tseten, a 30 yrs old nomad, who self immolated on April 15th in Gump County, Kardze , Kham, Tibet. 

According to a video and comments posted on social media this morning local time, a Tibetan monk set himself on fire in an apparent protest against Chinese rule. Online posts suggest that security personnel arrived moments later, put out the fire using extinguishers,and took him away in a vehicle.

After a few days, it was confirmed that he passed away.

"Even among the darkest clouds, shine lays of light through someday"

Note: First the info came out to the exile side was that it was a monk who self immolated. However
according to the most updated news,  he was a nomad called Wangchuk Tsetan.

19 March 2017

For Pema Gyaltsen March 18 2017

For Pema Gyaltsen, 24 yrs old, who self immolated in Nyarong, Kham, Tibet on March 18 2017.
He set himself on fire around 4 pm local time near Tsoga Monastery.

The police reportedly arrived at the scene and immediately took away his body and the site of the protest was blocked by a huge police presence.

There is no further information on Pema Gayltsen and his current condition remains unknown.

It is said, however, he carried his protest against the suppressive measures taken to Tibetan people by the ruling government.

When I saw the painful news of his protest online, did I also come across with an excerpt from 'White Crane, Lend Me Your Wings' by Tsewang Y. Pemba.

I share it here as I do feel it explains all - why Pema Gyaltsen and many other had to take this painful way of protest.

"Tenga was convinced that one must own the soil beneath one's feet and the sky above one's head - or else, one owned nothing. Religion, culture, politics, food habits, clothes, language, songs and dances - all these things came much much later.  They were mere sophistications.
All he asked for was that the soil beneath his feet and the sky above his had - be his.
That's all he wanted.
That's all he asked for.
That is True Freedom.
That is True Liberation."

Excerpt from 'White Crane, Lend Me Your Wings' by Tsewang Y. Pemba

May the true freedom and liberation come to the Land of Snows and world so as nobody
has to live and die like this.

3 March 2017

Remember Tsering Kyi March 3 2012

For Tsering Kyi, 19 yrs old student of the Tibetan Middle School, who self immolated on March 3 2012 in Machu town, Kanlho, Amdo, Tibet.  She set fire on herself in the vegetable market in the town.  The witness said Chinese vegetable traders threw stones and soil on her body and police on the scene beat her to attempt to put out flame.  She died on the spot. 

She grew up in a nomad family and loved herding but always wished to study, so was sent to the boarding school in town, where she was excellent with all studies especially Tibetan. She was also good at singing Tibetan folksongs. 

There were major protests throughout Tibet in 2008, in which hundreds of people were killed and many arrested, and  immolation protests was on increase since 2009. 
In 2010, the educational reform of decreasing Tibetan classes triggered peaceful protests among students  to demand the freedom and right of sustaining the mother tongue Tibetan in the area.  Testing kyi participated in the protest with other students, for which her school principle was forced to leave his job as a punishment. 

Through witnessing these incidents, her concern about her people, culture and language must have kept increasing to the point she decided to take such a painful form of protest for the dignity.   She kept saying to her mother
"I want to do something for Tibet.  There is no point of living with no action."

The night before her passing in Machu town, she was in her nomad home and insisted on sleeping besides her mother all night.
Her last words to her mother were " I am very happy" and "I will get married so may not see you again".

With her late daughter's necklace of coral-coloured beads on her, Tsering's mother said
" I am not sad.  My daughter decided it herself with a firm belief and dignity".

Note:  episodes were directly recorded by the fellow Japanese journalist, translated into English. ( Japanese)

Losar 2017

Losar tashi delek
sending many wishes for well-being of all and the world. 
May we all grow a spacious ,deep, and loving heart to eliminate 
hinderances within and around. 
And may those hearts never forget all beings, who are
in darkness, pain, and despair yet with dignity. May they be out to under the full of light, where they can fly, swim, walk freely with much care and love.
On the occasion of Tibetan new year of Female Fire Bird
わたしたち みんなの心が 果てしなく広く深く
チベット暦正月 謹賀新年

20 February 2017

Remember Nangdrol February 19 2012

For Nangdrol, 18 years old, who self immolated on February 19 2012 in Dzamthang county, Ngaba,Tibet. 
He set himself on fire in an area between Barma township and the Jonang Dzamthang Gonchen Monastery,
while shouting "May His Holiness the Dalai Lama live 10,000 years!" and " Freedom for Tibet". 

 His body was taken back to the monastery where traditional rituals were carried out for him.  More than 1000 Tibetans had gathered there to hold a vigil.  

According to Tibetans in the area who are in contact with Tibetans in exile, Nangdrol cared passionately about Tibetan culture and language and had urged fellow Tibetans to be united, and to preserve their cultural and religious identity.  

He left a will behind:

Head raised high with indefatigable loyalty and courage,
I, Nangdrol, call on
My grateful parents,
brothers and relatives,
For the cause of grateful Tibetan people,
By giving up my life to fire,
Men and women of Tibet,
I hope you all will keep unity and harmony;
Wear Tibetan [dress] if you are Tibetan;
Moreover, you must speak Tibetan;
Never forget you are Tibetan;
You must have love and compassion if you are Tibetan;
Have respect for parents;
Have unity and harmony amongst Tibetan;
Be compassionate to animals;

Restrain from taking lives of living beings.

26 December 2016

Remember Damchoe Sangpo February 17 2012

For Damchoe Sangpo, 38 yrs old monastic official of Bongthak Monastery, who self immolated
in Themchen country, Eastern Amdo (Tsonub Mongolian and Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture at present), Tibet on February 17 2012.
He was a member of Bongthak Monastery's Democratic Management Committee, the government established body that runs the monastery.

The report says he died after setting himself ablaze after monks were banned from marking a  Monlam prayer ceremony, while other sources reported that he had objected to a rigorous "patriotic education" campaign at his monastery.

He studied at Drepung Monastery in South India in the 1990s.  He served as a religious teacher after his return to Bongthak Monastery.

The photo of him came out to the exile side along with the sad news was taken in front of Mahabodhi Temple in Bodhgaya, Bihar, India, where Buddha is said to have been enlightened under the holy Bodhi tree.

I wonder what was his life like after his return from the 'democratic' country,  where teachings of his belief and practice were vibrantly alive,  he could receive much blessing, and he could  breath air of freedom.

11 December 2016

For Tashi Rabten December 8 2016

For Tashi Rabten, a 33 yrs old former monk,  who self immolated in the township of Machu, Amdo, Tibet on December 8 2016. He set himself ablaze around 7 pm.  The witnesses to the protest heard him calling out for freedom for Tibet, for the return of the exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, and for the release of the missing Panchen Lama.  He walked on flame, fell, and scrambled to death.
 He is survived by his wife and two children, who have been taken into custody.  A number of his other relatives have also been detained after approaching the authorities to ask for his body for cremation. 
Further information reveal that Tashi Rabten is the cousin of Tsering Kyi, a 19year old student who died after carrying out a self-immolation protest in Machu on March 3 2012. Both the self-immolations took place at the same spot.

note:  When Tashi Rabten's carried out his self immolation protest,  I was in the middle of installation for the exhibition " Ojos Agua Fuego - for the Land of Snow"  at the Museum de la Ciudad in Queretaro, Mexico.  As a part of the mixed media installation 'Dharamsala 2012 - 2013",  I pinned up a Japanese newspaper cut out of  an article on self immolation protests written by Journalist  Miki Funakoshi, which included the interview to the late Tsering Kyi's mother.  While pinning, I read the article again in tears.  It was after did I find out  the further news that Tashi Rabten was a cousin of Tsering kyi.  
My thoughts are with Tsering Kyi's and Tashi Rabten's family. 
With sincere wishes that nobody has to give their life away like this any longer. 

Announcement : Exhibition @ Museo de la Ciudad Queretaro, Mexico

Eyes Water Fire for Tibet ( Ojos Agua Fuego) for Tibet and for the world@ Museo de la Ciudad Queretaro, Mexico
December 9th 2016 to January 29th 2017

Eyes Water Fire and Drawings from Dharamsala is travelling to Mexico in honour of International Human Right Day and the H.H. Dalai Lama's Nobel Peace Prize anniversary. This exhibition was made possible by the support of Tibet Mexico Queretaro friends and Teleruz of ITN.  

All works, mostly mixed media installations, are made between 2012 up to date. Each piece has many layers of memories of many friends, young and old, whom I spent much time together in sorrow, joy, and prayers with candle lights. Therefore, I feel this occasion is to share their lives with other human beings (...maybe with other creatures too) in Mexico. The whole exhibition is meant to be a humble dedication to those who never lose hope and live in dignity, hope, and loving kindness.

6 October 2016

Small sketches for Eyes Water Fire 1 - Walking in Flame

While I was drawing this, a profile of a monk whom I saw in Dharmsala in the fall of 2012 merged from my memory.  He, Karma Ngedon Gyatso, self immolated on August 6 2013 at sacred Boudhanath stupa, Kathmandu, Nepal.  

I remember  vividly seeing him 'walking'  with his arms using two wooden blocks, dragging his paralysed legs on the slope of Temple Road to the main temple in Dharamsala. I also happened to stand near him while there was a vigil ceremony after the all day protest on November 13th 2012. 
I was stunned to see the serene and pure look of his profile shone by brim light of the sunset.  I took a picture of him without him noticing me.  It was that very profile that came up in my mind while drawing.  

Despite the severe disability, before he left Tibet for exile, Karma Ngedon Gyatso went on pilgrimage to various sacred sites in Tibet.  He reached Dharmsala. The source says he was in Dharmsala in 2011 but I believe he was there in 2012 as well because there is a photo of him in my hand.  Then he must have gone back to Nepal to carry out his non-violence protest. When I heard the monk's self immolation in Kathumandu,  did it take me for while to realise it was the same person whom I met in Dharmsala.  Then I cried for the second time. 

I think of his life.  He devoted his life in Dharma. He kept walking. Such sacred, but hard and long journeys. He never surrendered no matter how harsh his given life was.  Then he decided to offer his life in the most painful way for dignity of others.

12 September 2016

The Other Side

I drew many blue legs and many eyes this summer.  And I burnt many sticks of incense to poke paper. Why blue?  thinking of those who walked and walked over the high peaks covered with snow or swimming in the ocean, crossing the boarder for a free land.
Snow, glacier, the ocean - elements of water, cold water.
And I drew a figure walking, searching, hoping to reunite. Every bit of drawing and burning felt as if I could reach somewhere deep and connect with these people whom I never met and whose lights of life may have lost.

This evening, a cool night of the autumn after a long summer,  I was looking for words for this image, I had some kind of poem in my mind but it was vague.  Then Tsering Woeser, a Tibetan poet/writer's poem book 'Tibet's True Heart" came into my mind and I picked it up to start flipping the pages.

I encountered a poem titled "The Other Side" and started reading it.
My heart trembled when I came to lines:
"When you poke through/That sheet of thin, thin paper/And your eyes (soon to close)/ Peer beyond it/
Taking in the scenery/On the other side/

 It is her poem which she composed 26 years ago yet it felt as if this drawing was calling for the very poem of hers.  How hearts and feelings travel beyond time and space.

Attached below are the whole version of the poem in English and Chinese, that has been just sent by her with her permission.  ( note:  "Tibet's True Heart" by Woeser is published by Ragged Banner Press, Translated byA.E.Clark. 2008)


The Other Side                        Tsering Woeser

When you're near death
There's always an instant
When you poke through
That sheet of then, thin paper
And your eyes ( soon to close)
Peer beyond it,
Taking in the scenery
On the other side.
Then your gaze slowly comes back
In time for your last breath here.
The bystanders
Are all waiting calmly,
Willing to put up with a great deal,
Not like when I was fully alive and kicking
And they tried so hard to hold me back.
Maybe they'd still like to hold me back:
I don't know,
I don't want to know.
Basically, it's just one finger:
If a feeble effort
Can poke through that piece of paper
And find death,
The only thing I fear is that (surprise!) I might not manage to die.
I might leap from the bed
Jabbing them with gusto....
Now that would be interesting.

(March 1990 Kangding)