Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The beauty in the tragedy

Matheos Viktor Messakh , THE JAKARTA POST , JAKARTA | Mon, 03/16/2009 4:27 PM | Lifestyle

Undak Langit, Drepung Monastery, Tibet, by Krish SuharnokoUndak Langit, Drepung Monastery, Tibet, by Krish Suharnoko

It is rather ironic that a photography exhibition about Tibet and Dharamsala is being held in Jakarta.

It is ironic because Indonesia is guilty of having done the same thing that China is still doing to Tibet. And it is ironic because even as the world professes to care about the plight of Tibet, it clutches more and more tightly at China's economic and political power.

The exhibition, titled "Heaven in Exile", displays the works of four Indonesian photographers - Enrico Soekarno, Jay Subyakto, Krish Suharnoko and Yori Antar - who visited the Tibetan capital Lhasa in 2003, and then the Dalai Lama and his followers in exile in Dharamsala and Ladakh in India in 2006.

"We have held several events as a show of solidarity for the Tibetan people several times but this time is special because it is held around the time of the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising that began on March 10, 1959," Enrico Soekarno told The Jakarta Post.

"We mean for the exhibition to tell our people that freedom is the right of every nation, as stipulated in our own Constitution. We have been accused by many as being agents for Tibet or anti-China. That's not true. We are only trying to be on the side of the oppressed."

What makes these pictures stand out is that they were taken by four different people from different backgrounds who have all caught the spiritualism and intangible exotic heritage of Tibet in their photography.

The images by Yori Antar, an architect and photographer whose major concerns revolve around the preservation of heritage buildings, for example, capture the magnificent Potala Palace from a beautiful angle without sacrificing the impression that the palace has been infected by the Chinese government's modern constructions.

Yori succeeds in capturing the deathly quiet of scenes around various monasteries in Ladakh or mountains, all with nothing but Tibetan religious attributes and flags. The shots send a message about the prettiness of Tibet, while at the same time standing witness to the absence of the Dalai Lama from his land.

Yori's images of life in Ladakh, India, which mostly portray children, clearly hint at the enduring hope in exile, even though nobody knows how long it will last.

In his work, noted director Jay Subyakto plays with black and white, focusing mostly on the presence of people, but still managing to powerfully convey the cold and sunny sights of the land known as "the roof of the world".

Tarian Gunung, Shanti Monastery, Leh, Ladakh, India, by Enrico SoekarnoTarian Gunung, Shanti Monastery, Leh, Ladakh, India, by Enrico Soekarno

Enrico Soekarno also plays with black and white but with a stronger political flavor. Included among his shots are the barbed wire surrounding the Potala Palace, a military building with a Chinese star and a child in the street holding a picture of the Dalai Lama.

The journey to Tibet, Ladakh, Nepal and Dharamsala was originally planned for more than 20 people, Enrico said, but in the end only the four of them made it there.

The sophisticated setting and the installation of the photographs adds to the exhibition, thanks to the members of the Antara team that decided the size and installation of each picture.

In the doorway of the gallery, a poster covered with transparent cloth reads "China's record in Tibet. More than a million killed! More than 6,000 monasteries destroyed! Thousand in prison! Hundred still missing! China, get out of Tibet!"

"The oppression of Tibet was caught in a very subtle way by the young Indonesian photographers," said Mudji Sutrisno during a talk on "Visual power in moral movement" on Tuesday, held in line with the exhibition.

"The language of photography leads us to silence and contemplation that in the 21st century, there is still much oppression in many parts of the world," he later told the Post. "These pictures of Tibet as taken by the four photographers are pictures of a dying culture."

The pictures, Mudji said, succeeding in conveying the inner voice of the Tibetan. "It appears in the emptiness and striking silence, which makes the sky seem to be endlessly crying."

However, he said, the pictures still caught the beauty in the tragedy. "These photographs reveal that one civilization can injure another civilization, but they still caught the beauty inside every part of them."

The weakness of the works, according to Mudji, is that they are not accompanied by enough narration.

"They will not become a bridge for those who know little about Tibet, or could become a barrier for those who are skeptical about the issue, especially young people. They might say *Why not look at the nearby problem we have with the mudflow in Sidoardjo instead of Tibet?'"

On each Saturday during the exhibition, eight documentaries on Tibet provided by Yayasan Atap Dunia (Roof of the World Foundation) were screened.

The films were Leaving Fear Behind by Dhondup Wangchen and Gyaljong Tsetrin, Shadow Circus; The CIA in Tibet, A Stranger in My Native Land, Dreaming Lhasa, The Reincarnation of Khensur Rinpoche by Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam, as well as classics such as Wheel Of Time by German anthropologist Werner Herzog and the award winning documentary Cry of the Snow Lion by Tom Piozet.

One of the films, Leaving Fear Behind, is an undercover movie directed by autodidactic Tibetan filmmakers Dhondup Wangchen and Gyaljong Tsetrin. The 25-minute film exploring Tibetan sentiments about China, the relevance and symbolism of the Olympic Games and the return of the Dalai Lama was smuggled out of Tibet before the March 2008 riot. The two filmmakers are still in jail.

Another film Dreaming Lhasa was directed by Tibetans Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam. It tells the story of Karma, a female Tibetan director from New York who went to the Dalai Lama's place of exile in Dharamsala in India to make a documentary of political prisoners who fled from Tibet.

One prisoner she interviewed is Dhondup, a former monk who came to India to fulfill his mother's final request to find a long-lost freedom fighter. The journey leads not only into the history of Tibet but also into the discovery of oneself.

It seems that the exhibition, held as it is in a historic building in a busy part of the city, resembles the situation of the Tibetan: Once inside, one can see clearly the loneliness of the Tibetans, while the world outside is too busy to truly care about their plight.

But more or less, the four photographers have brought home the message needed to be shared, as the Dalai Lama once said: "World peace must develop from inner peace. Peace is not the absence of violence. Peace is the manifestation of human compassion."

- photos Courtesy of Geleri Foto Jurnalistik Antara

Heaven in Exile

Galeri Foto Jurnalistik Antara No. 59 Pasar Baru,, Central Jakarta

Until March 21

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