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Report from the Roof of the World: Images of Tibet and Nepal

Susan Ressler | Tibet, Nepal

Gateway to the Nyegon Nunnery (and to the enduring traditions of Tibet) in the hills below the Himalayas –– just two hours outside Lhasa, Tibet's political and religious capital.

This exhibit reports back from two of SE Asia's most threatened "mountain kingdoms": Tibet and Nepal. Tibet is threatened by Chinese occupation and its systematic attempt to crush and erase Tibetan culture. In an important sense, China is trying to rewrite Tibetan history and remake the Tibetan peoples in its own ideological image. And in Nepal, the 2015 earthquake has caused untold devastation and suffering. Poverty, lack of infrastructure, and a paucity of resources have limited recovery efforts; in three years only 7% of the earthquake's damage has been reversed. But in each case, the indigenous peoples show great strength and resilience. They will not give up, and my photographs are about hope rather than despair. I flip the usual documentary script and show what I believe matters: the beauty and diversity of two unique cultures; the truths of these peoples shown, as best as I can, through their eyes.

In April of 2018 I traveled to SE Asia with a cultural tour group. Having never been to Asia, I wanted to learn about the peoples and cultures of China, Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan and Thailand, the five countries we visited. This exhibit focuses on Tibet and Nepal and the unique challenges they face. I was struck hard by Chinese oppression of the Tibetan people, and by the devastation left in Nepal after the 2015 earthquake. But I was also struck by the beauty of these cultures: their unique arts, religious devotion, and traditional ways of life. I saw that the people did not perform these traditions for tourists; they lived and renewed these traditions every day. And so I decided to report back, not with an emphasis on pain and suffering, but to flip the usual documentary script and celebrate the beauty and diversity of Tibet and Nepal. Yes, I do have to establish the veracity of the threats each faces. But to be true to their beliefs, hopes and desires, I am showing what I've learned is important to them. Both Tibet and Nepal share a legacy of artistic and spiritual heritage that is thousands of years old. I try to honor that legacy and show why we, on the other side of the world, should care. 

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