events

FROM EXILE, SHOWING THE WAY FORWARD

Rio Helmi

The democratic election of Lobsang Sangay by the Tibetan people-in-exile as their prime minister and political leader, whose temporal authority now replaces that of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, is a major step forward not just for the Tibetan people but for democracy worldwide.

Throughout the 30 odd years of my association with the Tibetan people and His Holiness, I have always been made aware that the institution of true democracy has been an urgent ongoing project, much frustrated and  delayed more by the reluctance of the Tibetan people and differences of perceptions within their own community rather than anything else. HH the Dalai Lama had the vision to see that democracy is the only way forward for the Tibetans, yet had to work a very sensitive balance in nurturing this political development.

This is indeed refreshing and inspirational at this point in global political history. We see scenes of despots desperately trying to stave off the Arab spring, while a superpower flounders as it panders to the latest occupant of the oil fields of northern Africa and the shorelines of the Gulf. We see one Arab leader prancing about in a myriad outlandish costumes pronouncing the love of his people for his own glorious self (in between shelling the living daylights out of them); or another, backed by his giant neighbour, sending killer squads into hospitals to take out doctors and patients – whilst above mentioned superpower frets more about naval access to the region than the murders of entire families downtown. Yes, it is refreshing to see someone – who truly is worshipped by his people – so intent on divesting his power to them.

The previous Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso, tried valiantly to bring his people forward into the 20th Century, realising early on that Tibet would be a pawn to be sacrificed in the great game that soon was to involve the clash of global political ideologies – rampant feudalism, capitalism, communism all posed threats to the survival of a people and their culture. Clearly old Tibet was not idyllic, it had its fair share of issues. It had to reform. Yet the Thirteenth was to be disappointed by the apathy of the ruling class, the reluctance of Tibetans to open their eyes and see the new world. For all intents and purposes, his current successor, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso, politically tempered at an early age by dire circumstance, was better positioned to shift these perceptions, albeit at the bitter cost of losing sovereignity in his own land.

It is undoubtedly this loss, and the fragile balance of life for the Tibetan nation-in-exile, that has contributed greatly to this shift. But it has taken patience and perseverance to introduce direct elections into the community. Powerful leadership can be a double edged sword: on the one hand it can provide decisive action when needed, on the other it can easily lead to dependence and the inability of the populace to develop a clear sense of responsibility, civic and otherwise. With today’s record population numbers and cultural clashes, the development of strong, trans-cultural civic societies is more urgent than ever. Without transparent democracy’s checks and balances this is impossible to achieve.

This year the People’s Republic of China celebrates 60 years of the “liberation of Tibet”. But we all know that the PRC is haunted by fears of a homegrown “Jasmine Revolution” even back in the pre-dominantly Han populated provinces, let alone Tibet proper. Its insecurity is reflected in an unwritten disposition that no overseas Tibetans, especially Lamas, are allowed to visit Tibet for the next several months. That kind of fear is a clear indication of political dysfunction.

Ironically there is much more liberation going on in exile than within the borders of one of the world’s superpowers. Whilst the Chinese Nobel peace laureate languishes in jail, and the Arab spring continues to be bloody, Lobsang Sangay’s peaceful election indicates a blossoming of new hope for  the younger generation.

Major Sale at Rio Helmi Gallery (Bali)

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NO VUVUZELA TODAY THANKS

I enjoy football as much as anyone else. But I haven’t watched one world cup game this time. Not only have I been super busy, and could not be bothered to set up my tv for off-cable reception at home,  I somehow just don’t feel like endorsing a lot of what is going on.

Just watching which emotions gets stirred up by this super-hyped up event is a lesson. Having people enjoy and admire athletes perform is uplifting, I won’t deny it. I have a lot of respect for the all the hard training and skill that goes into it.

But there is a more disturbing side to the competition which has now become completely acceptable, many would say inevitable. And I am not even talking about the hooliganism or the strange, vicarious chauvinism of fans rooting for their favourites, invoking God and whoever else they chose to believe in. If anything they could almost be called the victims.

Sure, it didn’t take too long after the Olympics, for example, were re-established early last century for sports to exploited on an internationally political level. Hitler vs Jesse Owens made sure we wouldn’t miss that. But those days were almost innocent compared to now. FDR didn’t even send Owens a congratulation cable, much less an invite to the White House. Imagine today’s White House passing that one up (“No We Can’t”?).

Every four years the networks and sponsors scramble to outbid each other – the payoffs are enormous. Obviously all the fans are a huge cash cow, nothing wrong with that in a free market capitalist world, and I’m sure some North Koreans watched a few games too. And so when the players get huge pay checks, one could argue that’s their due, and it pays off in the level of sheer athletic brilliance it ensures.

The part I don’t get is: where has the sportsmanship gone? Where is the respect to all the fans aside from some inane bubbling in shlock magazines that are more interested in hair styles than anything else? How many Peles are there today?

Are you telling me that it’s too much to expect from someone who is getting paid millions and millions to be aware that they are a role model to the young the whole world around? I can understand that there is a huge pressure to perform, but how does it come that a player has no sense of shame when, literally under the spotlight and watched by billions of people, he kicks someone in the shins, stomps on their leg, pulls their shirt, and whatever else?

Is just winning and gladiatorship really uplifting? There is more respect due for a side that plays well but loses gracefully than a side that wins by playing a nasty game, then races around crowing.

Still trying to make up my mind whether or not to watch the finals.

In Search of the Buddha

There is no one story behind this exhibition, there is no one story behind each one of these images. There is a multiplicity of causes and conditions which have come together for the collection (which is ongoing) and for each one of these images .

I could cite many of these. For example, my father’s fascination for photography and home-movie making which pervaded our family life; a dream-like childhood visit to a still magical Borobudur in the early 60’s; my first encounter with a darkroom at the age of 12 when the very first pictures I developed were of Tibetan refugees (“Who are these people?” I was completely fascinated); an unforeseen meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in ’82. There are many more. But all of these too have endless ‘back stories’ behind them.

As a photographer, one is not only a witness to the moment it all crystallizes, but also the vehicle for these causes and conditions to arise. In a sense one is almost captive to them, though of course each one of us is busy creating them. So when, as photographers, we put ourselves in these situations, what we see is a reflection of our inner world.

Having grown-up as a photographer with the maxim “capture the moment”, it took me a while to realize that it is really more like being captured by the moment. These moments which have arisen before me and the camera are symbolic of my own journey: sometimes banal, sometimes highly charged, but always manifestations of my own voyage of discovery in Buddhism.