Songs for the Tibetan dead: A Performance Unlike Any Other

Tenzin Choegyal with Jesse Paris Smith, Laurie Anderson and band.

Tenzin Choegyal with Jesse Paris Smith, Laurie Anderson and band at the Rubin Museum of Art. Photo: © Raymond Haddad

Composer and musician Tenzin Choegyal is well known for his haunting melodies, soaring vocals and an addiction to experimentation. So when I took a seat last night in the Rubin Museum’s acoustic theater for a sold-out show by Choegyal alongside Laurie Anderson and Jesse Paris Smith, I expected to be surprised. But nothing could have prepared me for what was to come: an hour-long journey into the great unknown, filled with visualizations of death, rebirth and the great mystery of awakening.

Choegyal and friends performed a breathtaking and sublime musical adaptation of Bardo Thodrol (The Great Liberation Through Hearing), a Tibetan Buddhist text usually read for the dead or dying by a Tibetan lama. In the process of dying, Buddhists believe, a person’s consciousness goes through several different stages, where the dying person begins to see different kinds of colors, sharp lights, and terrifying images. The consciousness, blinded by the lights and terrified by the images of wrathful deities, is often lured into the more inviting paths of softer shades that lead to lower realms of rebirth. But if the dying person can face the blinding lights squarely, unafraid of the wrathful images and sounds, she can use this ‘moment of clear light’ to attain instantaneous enlightenment. The Bardo Thodrol, also known as the Tibetan Book of the Dead, is read to the dead with the intention of guiding them through this in-between state following one’s death and before entering rebirth.

With his trademark vocals accompanied by the unmistakable twang of his dranyen, Choegyal rendered the Bardo Thodrol, magically, into a multidimensional journey for the lay audience, an awe-inspiring rehearsal for the ultimate moment of clear light that awaits us all. Laurie Anderson’s intimate and powerful narration of the book was an artwork of the highest order, holding the audience enraptured, imprisoned, and eventually released. Jesse Paris Smith and her friends, with their panoply of futuristic instruments and the perfectly timed clanking of cymbals, created a cosmic soundtrack that was by turns apocalyptic, spellbinding and liberating.

At the end of the show, when Choegyal explained that this particular performance of Bardo Thodrol was dedicated to the more than 140 Tibetans who have self-immolated in the last four years for the cause of Tibetan freedom, the audience broke into a collective gasp, followed by rapturous and emotional applause. For many, it was as if the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle fell into its place, revealing a profound and devastating truth that had been brewing for an hour, in fact, for four years. No one left the concert hall without being moved – or transformed – by the unforgettable experience.

– by Tendor

Learn more about Tenzin Choegyal


President Obama Wishes you a Happy New Year


Michelle and I send our warmest wishes to everyone celebrating the Lunar New Year here in America and all around the world. I’ll always remember the parades, fireworks, and gatherings that surrounded the Lunar New Year when I was growing up in Hawaii. And now as President, this celebration is a perfect reminder of the many cultures and faiths that make us who we are as Americans…

– President Barak Obama

Wish you a wonderful new year from Tibetan Art Council.


Tibet related film at the Oscars, commentary on on-going erosion of Tibetan culture

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Butter Lamps, a short film directed by Chinese filmmaker Hu Wei is among the films nominated for this year’s Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film. This 15 minute experimental short is a work of fiction that is tinted with commentary on socio-political issues on the Tibetan plateau resulting from factors that are beyond the control of the Tibetans. The film features real Tibetan nomads as they interact with a photographer who travels the land offering to shoot portraits using various backdrops.

The film is said to be inspired by photographer Michael Nash’s works from Warsaw in 1946, where he went to the war torn region and photographed locals using scenic peaceful backdrops concealing the ruins from the war. Hu Wei’s film was shot between 2010 and 2012. The director, in an interview says,

“I hope to call attention to Tibet and Tibetan culture and traditions that are vanishing due to various reasons. And at the same time, examine the changes of our own culture under the influence of today’s globalization and modernization.”

In 2010, during the director’s first attempt to shoot the film in Tibet, Tibetans refused to work with him when they saw that he wanted to use the Tiananmen Square as a backdrop. The locals thought Hu Wei was making a Chinese propaganda film and did not want to partake. After a scuffle between the locals and the filmmakers, the production didn’t resume until 2012.

In the clip below from the film, Tibetan nomads pose in front of a camera, behind them is the backdrop of Tiananmen Square with it’s famous portrait of Mao. Soon an old Tibetan woman sits on a chair at the center concealing Mao’s portrait and instead holds a portrait of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the reincarnation of  Panchen Lama, one of Tibet’s most important religious leaders. In 1995, when the boy was just 6 years, The Dalai Lama recognized him as the 11th Panchen Lama but that same year, he and his whole family disappeared from the public eye. Believed to be in Chinese custody, Human rights organizations have often reffered to him as the world’s youngest political prisoner.

PanchenLama

Read more about the Panchen lama here: www.freepanchenlama.org

 

Born in Beijing, China, Hu Wei graduated from La Femis, the National School of Fine Arts in Paris and Le Fresnoy, and now lives and works between Beijing and Paris.


Tibetan film to premiere at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival

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This year at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival Tibetan filmmaker Sonthar Gyal will premiere his new film Gtsngbo (River) in the section Generation Kplus. Sonthar Gyal, a contemporary of Tibetan director Pema Tseden also hails from Amdo. Formerly a traditional thangka painter, he studied at the Beijing Film Academy. He worked as a cinematographer on several of Pema Tseden’s films including Old Dog(2011). Director Sonthar Gyal’s debut feature The Sun Beaten Path(2011) competed at the The 64th Locarno Film Festival in 2011.

Generation is one of the long running sub-sections of the Berlin International Film Festival focusing on films that speaks to cinematic works that are thematically and aesthetically linked to the experiences of children and young people. The program encloses outstanding children’s and youth films as well as films for all target audiences that are also suitable for young people. Established in 1978, Belinale devotes this competition section to children and youth. Along with adult jurors, the festival will also have Children jury consisting of  eleven 12-14 year old kids from Berlin. The highest award in this category will be € 7,500 endowment for the best feature film.

Gtsngbo (River)
Synopsis

The day her father drunkenly crashes his motorbike is when young Yangchan begins to realise that something is wrong with him. In her village on the Tibetan steppe people cannot understand why he does not go and visit her sick grandfather. The old man lives in a cave; he went there to meditate, and is regarded as a holy man. Everyone has been on a pilgrimage to see him. Except her dad, who stubbornly refuses. For this reason people consider him a bad person and the boys in the village make sure that Yangchan knows it. Her mum is pregnant with the next child and just wants some peace but her dad has his reasons for his irreconcilable stance. The family moves their tent to pastures further afield, but the conflict pursues them. Yangchan thinks that nobody understands her. And she does not like the way her mum’s belly is swelling either. She finds love and affection in the shape of an orphaned lamb that she tenderly takes care of and raises. But their problems remain unsolved. A moving story – told entirely from the girl’s point of view – about her father’s deep emotional wound that reignites after many years and pushes the whole family to the edge of a precipice.

Tibet (People’s Republic of China) 2015, 94 min, Tibetan, Director: Sonthar Gyal Cast: Yangchan Lhamo Regzin Drolma Guru Tsedan Kheydrup

Screening Dates in Berlin

  • Wed Feb 11 15:30 Zoo Palast 1 (E)
  • Thu Feb 12 13:30 Haus der Kulturen der Welt (E)
  • Sun Feb 15 14:00 CinemaxX 3 (E)

Ending in January – Anonymous Contemporary Tibetan Art Group Exhibition at Queens Museum, New York

Nortse, Group Photo, 2007, Chromogenic color print, 21.7” x 21.7”. Artist lives and works in Lhasa, Tibet.

Nortse, Group Photo, 2007, Chromogenic color print, 21.7” x 21.7”. Artist lives and works in Lhasa, Tibet.

Featuring works by Tibetan artists from inside Tibet and exile, the Anonymous show presents a large collection of artworks by known and new artists. Curated by Rachel Perera Weingeist, the works are mostly drawn from the Shelly and Donald Rubin private collection. The show opened initially at The Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art at New Platz in 2013 and has traveled to Fleming Museum of Art at the University of Vermont in 2014.

The current presentation at the Queens Museum opened in September this year and will close on January 4 2015.

In a range of mediums and individual styles, the artists explore themes of identity and self-expression. Displayed without attribution, the videos approach these themes from an alternative vantage point” embracing anonymity as an opportunity for open exploration and the presentation of oft-censored imagery. Experienced collectively, the range of work across media considers the varied roles of self-expression and identity in contemporary Tibetan culture.


Bhoe la dro (Let’s go to Tibet)


Tibetan Director Pema Tseden wins co-production deal at the 19th Busan International Film Festival

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Tibetan director Pema Tseden’s new film project “The Killer” is among the 9 out of 30 projects that were awarded the Asian Project Market (APM) prizes at the 19th Busan International Film Festival in South Korea. The award titled “Heyi Film & Youku Tudou Award” is sponsored by Chinese company Youkou Tudou who will invest $30,000 in this project.

Director Pema Tseden known for films like, Old Dog, The Search and the Silent Holy Stone is also featured in A Window to Asian Cinema section of this year’s Busan International Film Festival with his Shanghai prize winner, The Sacred Arrow.

The Sacred Arrow – This film is a tale of friendship and love of Tibetans through the thousand-year-old archery tradition. According to Amdo legend, Damo and Lhalong villages hold an annual archery competition that determines which village keeps The Sacred Arrow for one year. Dradon of the Lhalong village is enraged when he unfortunately loses by a head to Nyima of the Damo village. Overcome with jealousy and a sense of inferiority, Dradon realizes Nyima is in love with his younger sister and continues to interfere. Then one day, a local Tibetan government-sponsored International Archery Competition is held, and there Dradon and Nyima meet once again. The Tibetans pure and genuine friendship and love unravels against the breathtaking Tibetan highlands. (KANG Naeyoung, BIFF)