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.

17 June 2017

Remember Rinchen March 4 2012

For Rinchen, a Tibetan woman in her early thirties, who self immolated in Ngaba town, Ngaba, Tibet on March 4 2012.  She set herself on fire near a military camp in the vicinity of Kirti monastery.

She was a widowed mother of four children.

According to Tibetan monks from Kirti monastery who are now in exile, as she set herself ablaze, Rinchen shouted "Return His Holiness to Tibet" and "We need freedom". She passed away soon afterwards.

While drawing her after five years of her passing, I think about her children and the land of Ngaba, where close to 50 people have self immolated since 2009. Its beautiful green pasture holds so many tear drops, strong spirit, and desperate prayers for peace and freedom. 

20 May 2017

For Jamyang Losal May 19 2017

For Jamyang Losal, aged about 22,  who self immolated on May 19 2017 in Kangtsa county,
Amdo, Tibet.

He set himself on fire around 5 a.m. near the People's Hospital and passed away.   His body was taken away by the police, and when his family members went to the police station to claim his remains,  the police refused to comply with their request.

Losal was a monk belonging to Gyeteng Monastery in Kangtsa's Nangra town, where 20 monks reside and study.

17 May 2017

Exhibition 'Eyes Water Fire' @ ODD Gallery/KIAC, Dawson City, Yukon, Canada

Dear Friends: I am having an exhibition 'Eyes Water Fire" at Odd Gallery in Dawson City, Yukon, Canada. Please drop in if you are nearby exploring the great north of Western Canada. Please feel free to share.  Please find the article written by Robin Laurence and my artist bio/statement for the gallery's brochure below. 

Tomoyo Ihaya 
Eyes Water Fire
May 18th to June 22nd 2017 
Opening/artist talk at 7:30 pm May 18th
Odd Gallery/Klondike Institute of Art & Culture
902 2nd Ave., Box 8000, Dawson City, Yukon Y0B 1G0

Tomoyo Ihaya is a dedicated traveller. During the past decade and a half, she has made extended journeys to India from her home base in Vancouver. She has also installed exhibitions, attended workshops, or taken up residencies in Mexico, Thailand, France, and Japan, and has spent a couple of summers making art in a small studio in Norfolk, England. Her semi-nomadic existence is driven not by the touristic craving to consume the exotic but by the social and spiritual impulse to connect, identify, and understand, and the creative need to register these experiences in a meaningful way. Many of her drawings, mixed-media installations, and video works are her responses to peoples, cultures, and events to which she feels deeply bound. They are also a form of political protest, registering her dismay at the plight of persecuted minorities and her sympathy for refugees fleeing war, terror, and ethnic violence.
Ihaya’s most powerful connection has been to India, which she has visited some sixteen times since 2005. She is a committed practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism, also known as compassionate Buddhism, and her first trip to South Asia was made with her Vancouver-based meditation group. Initially she was drawn to Ladakh, a remote and sparsely populated region in the north of India, often referred to as “Little Tibet” because of its ethnic, cultural, and religious ties to that disputed place.1 Ihaya has also spent long periods of time in Tibetan settlements in the Himalayan region.

The series, “Drawings from Dharamsala,” was initiated in Puri, an Indian city on the Bay of Bengal, where Ihaya had taken up an artist’s residency in early 2012. She was alone in a cyber café there when she saw a report with a photo of a Tibetan monk who had self-immolated in protest of the Chinese government’s occupation of his country and its oppression of Tibetan culture and religion.2 The only way Ihaya could process the pain and the horror of this individual’s drastic protest was to return to her room and draw a figure enveloped in red and white, the red symbolizing fire and the white, the desire for peace and purification. Following this event, Ihaya felt compelled to travel to Dharamsala, the home of the Dalai Lama and the seat of the Tibetan government in exile. During the six months in total she spent there, she produced more than 70 drawings, each again in response to another self-immolation. At the same time, she researched the lives of the Tibetan martyrs and took part in community vigils and memorials. Whether exhibited in galleries or posted on her website, the drawings are a way of expressing her personal grief and anguish over the horrific deaths of her co-religionists as well as a means of memorializing them and communicating their cause and their sacrifice to the wider world.

Ihaya’s mixed-media installation expands her art-making beyond the fixed dimensions of the prints and drawings with which she has long been identified. Eyes, Water, Fire utilizes layering and repetition to suggest the complexity of the narratives she is trying to convey while also allowing the possibility of folding new ideas and experiences into each site- specific iteration. Although originating with the situation of Tibetans refugees, the symbolism of this work may be universalized to depict millions of refugees worldwide, including Syrians escaping war in their homeland and minority Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution and violence by the Buddhist majority in Myanmar. Blue legs suggest forced migrations and long journeys, over snowy mountains and across wide seas. Red flames declare resistance and dignity. Eyes, large and small, are multivalent, signifying, among other things, the act of witness, windows to the mind, and vessels filled with and shedding tears. Using incense sticks, Ihaya burns tiny holes in her drawings of eyes as an act of prayer or meditation; the light that shines through these holes symbolizes hope.
Similar images and symbols appear in Ihaya’s video, also titled Eyes, Water, Fire. Here, the simplicity of her hand-drawn forms and stop-motion techniques – the spectral opposite of high-tech, digitally rendered animation -- accords with the simplicity of prayer, and the repetition of symbols again suggests meditation. The work alludes to the occupation of Tibet, the erasure of traditional life ways, the pollution of important river systems, and, again, self-immolation protests. The wonder of Ihaya’s simple forms and apparently guileless repetition is that they communicate emotional power, social complexity, and spiritual depth.
Robin Laurence © 2017
Parts of this essay previously appeared in the form of articles by the author in The Georgia Straight. Self-immolating protesters have included not only Buddhist monks and nuns but also Tibetan men,
women and teenagers from every walk of life

Tomoyo Ihaya Eyes Water Fire May 18 - June 22, 2017
ODD Gallery

TOMOYO IHAYA was born and raised in Tsu City, Mie, Japan, and has been a resident of Canada since 2000. After studying studio arts at universities across Canada, Ihaya completed her MFA at the University of Alberta in 2002.
An interest in diverse cultures and a strong belief that art and one’s life should be intertwined have led Ihaya to travel and produce artwork through international artist-in-residency programs in India, Mexico, Thailand, the United States and Canada. She has exhibited locally, nationally and internationally since 1998 and is a recipient of numerous project grants and awards for artists.
Since 2005, Tomoyo Ihaya has spent an extensive amount of time in India on independent art research and, during this time, she has become close to Tibetan communities in exile through her studies in Tibetan Buddhism. Since the winter of 2011, she has been working on a series of drawings about Tibetans who have self-immolated in response to the Chinese occupation of Tibet. The drawings are a form of mourning and prayer for the victims, and the result of her close relationships with Tibetan friends and families over the years.
When she is not in India, Tomoyo Ihaya lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, where she teaches and makes art.
After many years of traveling and living abroad, particularly in India (sixteen visits since 2005), I have grown increasingly sensitive to people who have been forced to migrate. I have heard many stories of the loss of lives in struggle against suppression, lost homelands, escapes, and life in exile. There are many young and old friends with whom I have shared time together, who are refugees. Each of them possesses a story of hardship within his/her heart. They have not seen their families for many years. Some elder friends have passed away in the foreign land they escaped to, far from their native land. All these stories I have heard have made me think about what it is to be born and live. As a person who was born in a stable country (Japan) and who now lives in a stable country (Canada), my level of resonance/synchronization with these people and their journeys may not be able to reach the true depth of their despair. However, I do feel pain and I feel compelled to draw when I see the images and hear the stories of thousands of people escaping en masse over mountains, across great plains and oceans by any means possible. These works are the result of my direct and indirect experiences with people whom I have come to know.
ROBIN LAURENCE is an independent writer, critic and curator based in Vancouver. She is the award-winning visual arts critic for The Georgia Straight and has long been a contributing editor of Canadian Art and Border Crossings magazines. 

7 May 2017

For Chagdor kyab May 2 2017

For Chogdor Kyab, 16 yrs old junior high school student, who self immolated on May 2nd 2017 in Bora, Amdo, Tibet.

It is said that Chogdor walked inside of Bora monastery in the evening, set himself on fire, and ran in flame towards Bora city hall while screaming slogans ' freedom for Tibet' 'Bring H.H.Dalai Lama to Tibet'.

He fell onto the ground gradually.  The security force rushed to the site immediately to take his body away.  His whereabout and condition is not known at present.


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.