New Short Project – Dream Palaces: Tibetan Poets In Exile

Some weeks ago my friend Ananya Vajpeyi began posting verses of Tibetan poetry on her Facebook Wall. That is where I first read them, and that is how I first became aware of the existence of a large number of young Tibetan poets living in small, cramped hostel rooms and apartments in Dharamshala and etching the confines and struggles of their existence into poems. I remember talking to Ananya about how moved I was by some of the words, and how evocative they were. It was in one of our conversations about this poetry that the idea of producing a short piece about these young voices, and their determination to have their works published, and heard came about.

 

Reading the works in the comfort of my room in Delhi was a strong experience. But it was only after I had spent some time in Dharamshala that I really began to understand the meaning and complexity of these works. It is only by coming here to Dharamsahala that I finally realized that the world within the poems are written in resistance to the world that the Tibetan’s see around them. And to a future they fear is promised to them. The poems are a tapestry of hopes in opposition to the squalor and uncertainty, if not outright (seeming)  impossibility, of the fulfillment of those hopes.

Their poems which are filled with a sorrow, longing and a sort of inner frenzy to escape, a near maddening sense of loss. When you meet the poets, however, as you sit with them, whether in a local cafe or in the suffocating confines of their tiny refugee hostels and apartments, they come across as brave, polite, gentle, funny and determined. But the poems reveal the inner reality – another reality. As you sit with them, having read their works, you see not just the person in front of you, but the demons that reside within.

The poems are near screams, a form of release and contain the frantic gestures of a prisoner pulling at bars. Some have the desperation of a man pulling his hair to feel a pain greater than the one in his heart. I see their faces – those laughs, that smile, those strong and determined eyes, I respect their words – that rhetoric of resistance, that language of confrontation, that mission of struggle, but then I think of the poems that reveal the fragility of their souls, the darkness of their inner world, the real hopelessness that fuels the public strength and courage.

Over the course of the next few days I will be posting recordings of the poets reading their works. Bhuchung D. Sonam and Casey Kemp, a Buddhist researcher and scholar, have generously offered to translate works from the original Tibetan. This may take some time, but many younger Tibetan poets are writing in English, and those I will share here shortly.

This is an amazingly talented, very passionate group of young poets. Their works are largely unpublished, but the people at outfits like TibetWrites – small, locally funded publishing effort, are trying to get more of this work out to the world.

Where Tibet Writes

As I said, I will be posting various poems, photo essays, poet profiles, translated poems, and a flip book over the course of the coming weeks. I am also putting together a small, soft cover, book of images from my time in Dharamshala that I hope people will be willing to purchase. All proceeds from the sale of the book will go to TibetWrites to support the further translation and publishing of the works of these young poets.

It is impossible however, to end a discussion about Tibetan poets without mentioning Tenzin Tsundue. I will not say much here about this remarkable man, because so much has already been said. Though of course I feel that it is still not enough. Tsundue is an inspiration to anyone who meets him and a source of endless energy,belief and hope. Here in Dharamshala he can be taken for a one man crusade for the struggle for Tibetan rights and independence. Of course there are thousands involved in this seemingly Sisyphean effort, but Tsundue remains a spark to it all. But not only that, he is also a poet, a writer and a lovely and generous man.

Tenzin Tsundue by Asim Rafiqui (Click Image To Go To Website)

I end this post with him because I can’t help but feel that somehow so much of what is going on in the Tibetan community in exile begins with him.  The writer Pankaj Mishra called him one of The Restless Children of The Dalai Lama. I will write more about Tsundue and his poetry, as I will about other poets that I met, in the next few days.

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From “Headmen” To “Hitmen”–A People Brutalised Yet Again

Another photographer turns up at another manufactured ‘traditional’ geography, and produces another set of racist, reductive and entirely fake set of images. I don’t mean ‘fake’ in the way that most photographer’s get all concerned about. I mean ‘fake’ in a much more serious way, one that reduces people to social, political and historical caricatures and makes them into concocted objects for class titillation and voyeurism. And this American magazine–mired deep in the heart of American imperialism, its violence and its brutality–publishes the images and accompanies them with what can only be described as one of the most incredibly ahistorical, obfuscatory and infantile articles I have read outside of stuff frequently published by Time Magazine and/or The New York Times.

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Thomas Sankara’s Restless Children

The project is now complete. Although, we may never really complete the telling of this remarkable story. You can see the project by clicking on this link here, or on the image below.


Eyes Of Aliyah–Deport, Deprive, Extradite Initiative By Nisha Kapoor

I have publicly and on this forum very explicitly argued against the strange ‘disappearance’ of black/brown bodies that are the actual targets and victims of our ‘liberal’ state policies of surveillance, entrapment, drone assassinations, renditions and indefinite detention. I recently argued:

“Western visual journalism, and visual artists, have erased the actual victims of the criminal policies of the imperial state. Instead, most all have chosen to produce a large array of projects examining drone attacks, surveillance, detentions and other practices, through the use of digital abstractions, analogous environments, still life work or just simply the fascinating and enticing safety of datagrams and charts. Even a quick look at recent exhibitions focusing on the ‘war on terror’ or wars in general, have invited works that use digital representations of war, or focus on the technologies of war. An extreme case of this deflection are recent projects on drone warfare that not only avoid the actual brown/black bodies that are the targets of deadly drone attacks, but are not even produced anywhere near the geographies and social ecologies where drone attacks continue to happen! Yet, these works have found tremendous popularity, though i remain confused what kinds of conversations or debates they provoke given that the voices of the families of those who have been killed, are not only entirely missing, but people who can raised the difficult questions about the lies and propaganda that are used to justify the killings, are also entirely missing.”

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Public Release of “The Sinner”

This is my first feature length documentary film and we–Justice Project Pakistan, with the guiding support of Sarah BelalRimmel Mohydin and others at Justice Project Pakistan, are finally releasing it.

And we are doing it first in Pakistan.

The film takes us into the world of capital punishment in Pakistan through the life of one man; Jan Masi. Jan Masi worked as an execution for nearly 30 years, and claims to have executed over 1800 people. He started his work in the enthusiastic pursuit of revenge for the execution of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

This isn’t a typical documentary film. No talking heads. No linear story-telling. No polemics or moral grand standing. No righteous exclamations against capital punishment. Instead, Jan Masi, his life, his scars, his fears and despair, act as metaphors for the meaning of capital punishment in Pakistan, and the consequences it has on the broader Pakistani society.

Sudhir Patwardhan

Sudhir Patwardhan.

Can you discover ‘an influence’ after the fact?

What do you call someone who seems to embody your eye, your sensibility, and yet you had never seen his / her work, and yet, when you now see it, you see the ‘influence’…the similarities?

Is he confronting the same questions? Is he seeing this incredibly complex and multi-layered world with the same desire to depict it as close to that complexity as possible?

I was taken aback. The aesthetic pursuit is so familiar. It is as if he is a step ahead of me. He is a step ahead of me.

I am going through these images–gorgeous, striking, unique, and no, I refuse to give you some ‘European’ reference to understand them in any way. They are Patwardhan’s and his alone. But I want to make them as photographs.

They are the photographs I would make if in Mumbai. It is beautiful stuff. It makes me want to go and make photographs.

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Make It Right For Palestine, November 4, 2017

Be there. Hyde Park. Speaker’s Corner. London. 12:00 noon. 4th November, 2017.

The Polis Project…Is Up And Running

If you can’t join them, then just do it on your own.

We launched a new collective focused on research, reportage and resistance. The specific goals and objectives are being developed as we speak, but the idea is a simple one: to collect under one banner a group of individuals from different fields – artists, writers, academics, photographers, intellectuals, poets and others, who are consistently working against the grain. In this time of collective conformity, and a media sycophancy to power and extremism, some of us felt the need to create a small space where people are still determined to refuse the agendas of political power, debilitating capitalism, nationalist extremism and neoliberal idiocy, and remain fools in their hearts, and idealists in their souls.

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Short Doc: “As If A Nightmare”;The Story Of Former Bagram Prisoner Abdul Haleem Saifullah

 

We are commemorating 9/11 this week, but by remembering the ‘other’ victims of that event that few chose to remember. These are the brown bodies that rarely make it into visual media projects, that since 9/11, have chosen to hide behind digital representations, data charts, and other visual forms that do a lot, but never permit us to see or hear the brown and black people who actually suffer the consequences of drone attacks, sweeping surveillance, targeted entrapment, renditions, indefinite detentions, torture and other forms of inhumanity that today liberal minds seem to be able to easily justify.

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Short Doc: “Prisoner 1432” – The Story of Former Bagram Prisoner Amanatullah Ali

 

We are commemorating 9/11 this week, but by remembering the ‘other’ victims of that event that few chose to remember. These are the brown bodies that rarely make it into visual media projects, that since 9/11, have chosen to hide behind digital representations, data charts, and other visual forms that do a lot, but never permit us to see or hear the brown and black people who actually suffer the consequences of drone attacks, sweeping surveillance, targeted entrapment, renditions, indefinite detentions, torture and other forms of inhumanity that today liberal minds seem to be able to easily justify.

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10 Things To Consider…

I recommend that photographers, photojournalists, documentary photographers remember these wise words by Tania Canas, RISE Arts Director / Member – I am copying and pasting it here. As brown and black bodies are stripped of their clothing, as brown and black children are dehumanised to mere misery, as brown and black women are reduced to simply victims, as ghettos and brothels and refugee camps and slums become the ‘paint by number’ formula for White photographer’s career and publishing success, it becomes increasingly important that those of us on the receiving end of White ‘largesse’ begin to build obstacles, speak back, and refuse / reject these ‘representations’ and their reductive, violent and brutal narrative frames. We have lost too much, and are in danger of whatever little we have left as humans and as histories, if we permit this process to continue.

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