Rigdol is perhaps the most vocal of the young Tibetan artists – although quietly spoken by nature – He has in recent years become the focus for young Tibetans in the West, partially because of his political stance and partly because of his 'Soil Project' from 2011. This forceful and eloquent event saw him covertly transport 20 tonnes of soil out of Tibet, taking it to the Tibetan capital in exile, Dharamsala where it was used to build a platform that allowed dispersed Tibetans who live there to walk on the soil of their country once again. This was an act - deeply emotional for many who experienced it - of great resonance for Tibetans from around the world.
Known as the “roof of the world,” Tibet is a remote Buddhist region governed by Communist China. Beijing claims its sovereignty over Tibet goes back centuries and views the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, as a separatist. About 150,000 Tibetans live in exile, a majority of them in Dharamsala, according to their governing body. The Dalai Lama set up residence there after Chinese forces crushed a 1959 Tibetan uprising.
Tibetan artist Tenzing Rigdol covertly transported 20,000 kilograms of native Tibetan soil from Tibet to Dharamsala, India, home of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in Exile and more than 10,000 Tibetan refugees.
The soil was spread out on a stage designed by the artist where the people were invited to walk and sit as well as express their feelings through a standing microphone. The design of the site-specific installation, titled “Our Land, Our People,” comes from the inspiration and interpretation of the Tibetan National flag and the tragic history of Tibet.
In March 2009, Rigdol’s father fell ill while living as a refugee in New York. His only desire, to visit Tibet just once before he died, went unfulfilled. It was in his father’s dying wish, exemplifying the exile Tibetans’ longing to return to their country, that Rigdol found the inspiration to pursue the project. Through Rigdol’s work, Tibetan refugees living in Dharamsala, who have been separated from their families and are forbidden from returning to their homeland, had the chance to step on Tibetan soil. For some, it was the first time in more than fifty years that they have walked on Tibetan soil; for many, born in exile, it will be the first time in their lives.
This groundbreaking installation enabled 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.
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