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.

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)



11 September 2016

Sketch for Eyes Water Fire II

Thousands of Eyes
Shedding tears
Vessels floating on rough water
Legs crossing glaciers
Half frozen
In the snow mountains
Keep flames burning to show
That we are here to live
To reach the right
Tears of light

Announcement - Exhibition 'Eyes Water Fire' @ Art Beatus, Vancouver, BC, Canada

9 August 2016

Ani Yeshi Lhakdron

This is a portrait of 25 years old Nun Yeshi Lhakdron who disappeared after her arbitrary detention by Chinese security forces during the 2008 uprising in Tibet.  She was detained with two other fellow nuns and only she has been missing.

It is said the three nuns protested peacefully in Kardze County in 2008 raising slogans such as "Tibetans want human rights" and throwing leaflets that bore slogans calling for long life for Gyalwa Rinpoche (H.H. 14th the Dalai Lama) and freedom in Tibet.

After enquiring about her for a long time, her family members were forced to conclude that she had succumbed to torture during police custody. The news of the conclusion came out on the exile side
on June 30 2016, more than 8 years after her disappearance.  The photo of her came along with the news.

Her face with kind but strong willed eyes and  a shy smile struck me and stayed in my heart.
I printed the photo out and let her gaze at me for a long time.  I could not imagine how she and many other people could possibly gather all the strength to carry out a protest, for which  they must have known brutal violence and torture would await for them.

The portrait that I finally have drawn does not capture the pure-heartedness and strong will that I had felt from her in the photo.  I still post it here to express my deepest admiration for her courage, sorrows for the pain that she experiences, and to remember her life and will.

With wishes that the day will come when there is no torture and violence on the earth

11 July 2016

Remember Lobsang Gyatso February 13 2012

For Lobsang Gyatso, a 19 yrs old monk from Kirti monastery, who self immolated on February 13 2012 in Ngaba, Amdo, Tibet.

His protest occurred on the eve of China's presumed next leader Xi Jinping's visit to Washington D.C.
to meet President Obama.  He set fire to himself early afternoon at the top of the main street of Ngaba county town, while shouting slogans of pretest against the Chinese government.

Kirti monks in exile and other Tibetan sources said that  armed police and special forces were seen violently beating him as they extinguished the flames.

Two Tibetans who sought to help Lobsang were also severely beaten by police, with one being led away.

After his passing in the following 4 years, many other monks, nuns, lay people have carried out this painful protest, which they take all pain within their bodies instead of harming their enemy.
Ngaba has the most toll of 41 self immolations since 2009, many by the monks from Kirti monastery. Some also carry out a solo protest - each walks alone, holding up their precious teacher's photo in their hand and raising slogans - even though they all  know the painful abuse would await for them.

Their spirit and sense of dignity never die.

8 July 2016

'Do not stamp on my faith'

Dark heavy black arms reach
our scared mountains, rivers, and lakes
where our spirits lie
They come to dig, dig, and dig
and spit poison out to our water,
killing fish and animals that have lived in our ancient land for generations
They stamped on my land
They stamped on our bodies and took our brothers and sisters lives away
They stamped on our faith

Leave our land. stop digging
Stop harming us and our land
Let us go back to pasture 
Our faith and will never be dead no matter how many times they stamp

29 May 2016

Remember Tenzin Choedron - February 11 2012

For Tenzin Choedron, a 18 years old nun from Mame Dechen Nunnery, who self immolated in Ngaba, Amdo, Tibet on February 11 2012.

She carried out her protest early in the evening on February 11, shouting slogans against the Chinese government.  Where she chose to do the protest was the same place - the Sumdo Bridge area below the nunnery - as the fellow nun, Tenzin Wangmo, had set herself on fire on October 17 2011.
She passed away soon afterwards.

She was the eldest of four brothers and sisters.  She spoke little, followed the rules, studied hard, and got excellent grades.

She smiles gently and shyly in the photo of her, which came out to the exile side.  It is hard to imagine how this young person made this extreme decision.  One can only  that she must have grown her deep concerns for her country's and others' sufferings in her pure and resilient heart after experiencing harsh treatments to fellow nuns and Tibetan people.

Mame nunnery is the largest one in the area.  The group of nuns of brave hearts carried out a protest march in 2008, carrying a portrait of the Dalai Lama, after which many were detained.

17 May 2016

Remember Rinzin Dorje and Sonam Labyang February 8 2012

For Rinzin Dorje, a 19 yrs old former Kirti monk and Sonam Labyang, a 42 yrs old monk from Lab monastery, who carried out self immolation protests on February 8 2012.

Two protests happened in two different locations in Amdo on the same day: Rinzin Dorje at a primary school early in the evening in Ngaba county town in Ngaba and Sonam Labyang in Triwang town, Tridu County, Yulshul.

Rinzin Dorje set himself on fire at a primary school early in the evening and he was taken away by police to the local hospitals but believed to have passed away. He was known as a humble and kind person, and a hard worker, who enjoyed looking after the birds that lived around the monastery.  Sonam Labyang survived but both of his legs had to be amputated.  His current living situation and physical condition is unknown.

Recent the self-immolation of Rinzin on that day and former protests by others had triggered a number of protests in Ngaba and neighbouring Kardze, in which at least three Tibetans were shot dead.

February 8 was the global solidarity day for Tibet and candle light vigils took place worldwide by exile Tibetans and human rights supporters.  Tibetans in Tibet were aware about this, therefore the security in politically sensitive areas inside Tibet like Ngaba was very tight.

8 May 2016

For Sonam Tso March 23 2016

For Sonam Tso, a Tibetan woman in her 50s, who carried out a self immolation protest in Zoege, Ngaba, Amdo, Tibet on March 23 2016.

Her husband and she were doing kora ( circumambulation in Tibetan) around Sera Monastery.
While walking together,  she told him to go ahead and put herself on fire.  The young monk of the monastery heard her screaming "The return of the Dalai Lama and freedom for Tibet.
Tso's husband and the monk tried to put out the flames, and an elderly monk named Tsultrim, her uncle, then brought her inside the monastery.

She passed away in a vehicle where she was put to be taken to the hospital, before leaving the monastery.

She was a mother of five children, two boys and three girls.

Note:  News of her protest was initially delayed in reaching outside contacts due to communications clampdowns imposed by Chinese authorities in the area.