A young artist sets out on a mission to bring Tibet home to its people through an art project that involves smuggling 20,000 kilos of native Tibetan soil across the Himalayas from Tibet into India, while spanning the borders of three countries.
By virtue of his small mission, he forever touches the hearts of many Tibetans living in exile who are unable to return home.
Bringing Tibet Home is a documentary film currently in production. It tells the story of artist Tenzing Rigdol, as he sets out on a mission to bring Tibet closer to Tibetan exiles through an unprecedented art project titled, Our Land, Our People.
The installation involves the artist, bringing 20,000 kilos of native Tibetan soil from Tibet to India. This soil is laid out on a platform set up in Dharamsala, India where he will give a chance to thousands of exiled Tibetans to walk on their home soil. For many this is a reunion, for some, the first time that they set foot on their homeland and for a few, this is probably the last time that they ever see anything of their lost nation.
Through this groundbreaking site-specific installation, artist Tenzing Rigdol enables the displaced to ‘return’ home. Although Rigdol’s work examines the plight of the Tibetan people in exile, it also has wider resonance, exploring the notion of nostalgia, the idea of homeland and how art is intertwined with the political and the social. It also demonstrates the transgressive power of art as an act of defiance.
In the late 1950s, after Chinese troops invaded Tibet, Tenzing’s father was among the first group of refugees who escaped Tibet by crossing the treacherous Himalayas to seek freedom. Once in exile, Tenzing’s father lived in Nepal for most of his life before emigrating to the United States.
In early 2009, Tenzing’s father was diagnosed with cancer. In the months that followed, Tenzing stayed by his father’s side, as he struggled to fight his life-threatening illness. Having been continually shuffled off to various boarding schools throughout most of his childhood, Tenzing spent little time at home with his parents. These daily visits to the hospital and the subsequent talks with his father brought the two of them closer. A new friendship was born that added an unexpected dimension to their father-son relationship, as they shared their dreams and ambitions, and their deep and unfulfilled longing for their lost homeland. Tenzing’s father eventually lost the battle with cancer. He died in New York, thousands of miles away from his homeland and his dreamland.
Following the experience of these difficult and seemingly fast-paced days, Tenzing began to question many things in his own life, especially those he had typically taken for granted. Among the most pivotal things that Tenzing clearly remembers from his conversations with his father, was his strong desire to visit Tibet at least once before he died. Tenzing’s father’s greatest wish was to breathe his last breath in Tibet, on the soil of the place where he was born and the place that he always called home.
Lost in remorseful contemplation about his late father’s dying wish, Tenzing was struck by the sudden idea that this wish must be common among almost all Tibetans living – and dying – in exile. He wished that there might be something he could do as an artist to make this common dream a collective reality. Thus, an art project was born that could potentially be shared and experienced by all 150,000 exiled Tibetans.
In June 2011, after months of deliberation and preparation, Tenzing flew halfway across the globe from New York to Nepal, to set up base for the next two months to work on the new and secret (because of its highly political implications) project. As soon as Tenzing set foot in Nepal, new dangers became apparent, for it is common knowledge among Tibetans that Chinese spies and agents keep close watch on Tibetan political activities in the region. The project therefore, suddenly carried the very real possibility of arrest and criminal charges for everyone involved.
The film quietly follows Tenzing for many months as he travels from New York to
Nepal and to India by air, road and train in order to make this unusual art installation project happen. It’s a trip halfway across the globe, covering more than 7,500 miles. The film explores the artist’s motivation, the process, and the challenges that he faces along the way and during the final presentation. The film also provides an in-depth look at the artwork and the artist’s experience.
On October 26, 2011, the art installation titled, Our Land, Our People, opened to the public in Dharamsala, North India. The exhibition remained open for three days. Thousands of Tibetans, young and old, got a chance to walk on the smuggled Tibetan soil. Up on the stage was a microphone that the artist installed, if in case people wanted to express themselves. Many spoke, sang, and cried. It was a day that the Tibetan exiles will remember for long. Tenzing says the journey of this soil shares a story similar to that of most Tibetan refugees, who risked their lives to cross the Himalayan Mountains to seek freedom in exile.
On the day of the opening, the Dalai Lama invited Tenzing to his residence. Tenzing presented a tray of the soil to His Holiness, who, upon receiving it, scribbled the word Bhod – meaning ‘Tibet’ in it with his finger. Tenzing says this was a powerful and an emotional experience. The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 and has not been allowed to return ever since.