border review | 29 October 2011

Contemporary art and Tibetan soil in Dharamsala

Tenzin Rigdol, a contemporary Tibetan artist based in New York, managed to transported twenty tons of Tibetan soil to Dharamshala for an installation. Sherab Woeser for Phayul:

Under a brilliant October sky, the soil from Tibet was spread on a grand stage at the open grounds of the Tibetan Children’s Village School (TCV) in Dharamshala. A portrait of His Holiness the Dalai Lama was placed in the centre and the ‘banned in Tibet’ Tibetan National flag was raised on the little piece of land from Tibet.
Old men bent on walking sticks kneeled down to touch their foreheads on the soil and feel the grains in their hands while monks recited prayers and threw little handful of soil to the sky as offerings. Inaugurating the site-specific installation, titled “Our Land, Our People”, earlier today, an emotional Kalon Tripa Dr Lobsang Sangay stood for the first time on the soil of his forefathers and spoke through a microphone set on the stage of his late father’s wishes of returning to Tibet. “It has been the dream of many Tibetans to return to Tibet and set foot on Tibet’s soil. Many have passed away with that wish unfulfilled. Today, I am stepping on this soil as a gesture of our struggle to reunite with our brothers and sisters in Tibet,” Dr Sangay said.

BBC reports that a tray of soil was taken to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, “who blessed it and wrote a word in Tibetan language on it”. I am very curious what word he wrote, where the soil comes from, and how contemporary art relates to Tibetan conceptions of place and sacred landscape. BBC journalist Joanna Jolly asked the artist who he managed to transport the soil to India:

The artist refused to say exactly where in Tibet the soil had come from and how it was transported to India, because of security concerns. However, he said he had filmed the process and would release it at a later date.