Tibetfest was fabulous. We spent months thinking and planning and hoping but you still never know how things are going to turn out on the day. There were certainly moments during the set-up day when I was really worried we weren’t going to be ready on time. But an effective team can do anything and in the last hour or so everything came together.
Our first evening was a collaboration with Sofar Sounds – who run secret gigs in 387 cities around the world. We had three different bands and around 100 people, which was a pretty good start to the weekend. Joe and George from Big Tooth, Charlie Lewis, and OMYO – thanks for playing our opening night!
Across the whole festival we had around 450 people through the door. A great turnout!
A celebration of Tibetan culture, history and activism
We had a wide array of things to see and do at Tibetfest. Our special guests were the monks from the Gaden Ngari Khangtsen Monastery and throughout the weekend they constructed us a beautiful sand mandala, which was the centrepiece of the festival. In addition to this, they provided blessings and astrology readings, performed a tantric black hat dance, carried out a tsock puja and performed opening and closing ceremonies. It was really wonderful to have them with us and it wouldn’t have been the same without them.
As well as all the fantastic moments the monks brought to Tibetfest, we had a team of musicians, artists, speakers and workshop leaders who hosted a variety of events and made the festival truly remarkable.
We had two wonderful circle dancing workshops led by Samphel. We had yoga sessions from Natalie and Hanna and a meditation session from Sanghasiha. We had acoustic music from Sian Fawcett, traditional Tibetan music from Losel Topgyal and jazz from Footprints. We had a talk and art display from Ugyen and a talk with film screening from Sonam. We also had talks from Pempa Lobsang, Chairman of the Tibetan Community UK, and Tenzin Kunga, Communications and Advocacy Officer at the Office of Tibet – and one from me. We had a piece of sculpture created for us by Alex Barkhouse. We had calligraphy and help with our art workshop from Migmar. We had a dranyen performance and workshop from Jamyang, with help from Choenyi. We had delicious momos from Palmo. We even had a visit from Zeus and Yang, two beautiful Tibetan mastiffs who came along with their owners on the Sunday.
I’d also like to thank Kunsang and Tenzin Kunga for their translation work, Phuntsok Dalu (Culture Secretary of the Tibetan Community UK) for his help with organising, and a big thank you to all the volunteers who worked during the festival.
Campaigning, outreach and education
Tibetfest also had a serious side. Our campaigns team created a moving installation which immersed people in our In The Dark campaign.
Audio recordings of testimonies, written accounts and visual representations of torture techniques all helped to provide an insight into the experience of the Tibetans who disappear into China’s prison system.
If you missed Tibetfest and haven’t already seen this campaign you can learn more and take action here.
We were also able to showcase the latest development in our Larung Gar campaign.
For decades, Tibetans – and everyone else living under Beijing’s control – have been subject to intense surveillance, with every move monitored and recorded. We decided it was time to turn the tables, so we commissioned satellite images of Larung Gar to show the world exactly what China has been doing there.
The images are incredibly detailed and individual buildings can be clearly seen. We also acquired an image from before the demolition began, allowing us to make a before and after comparison. This is powerful evidence, and shows a pattern of destruction that is inconsistent with China’s claim that buildings are being demolished for fire safety reasons. Instead, it supports the residents’ fears that Larung Gar is being prepared for tourism.
The campaigns team have also worked with Tibet Watch to produce an excellent report on Larung Gar, combining the satellite photography with testimony and images smuggled from the site. You can download your own copy here. I have to say, it has been very satisfying to use surveillance technology against China for once.
In addition to our campaigns, Tibetfest also featured an exhibition of photographs from the protests which took place in Lhasa in 1987, as well as those which followed in 1988 and 1989. This was the same exhibition which the Tibet Watch team showed in Dharamsala – the one I mentioned in my last blog. A report on this can also be downloaded here.
A great success
The secret ingredient of any festival is its atmosphere. Standing in the middle of the upper gallery, I could see people writing letters at one of our action tables, small groups chatting, a young man sitting in the library reading a Tibet Watch report, children running around with our temporary tattoos on their faces, people trying out the singing bowls, lighting candles at our remembrance table, painting, watching videos, buying handicrafts. I could hear music and the sound of people dancing downstairs. There were so many different things happening at the same time. It was just like a real festival!
We saw a lot of old friends and we saw people we’d never met before. We saw Tibetans, Tibet supporters and people who were just learning about Tibet for the first time. It was a wonderful mix. And we succeeded in showing the many different faces of Tibet. We had traditional and contemporary. We showed the beauty and the brutality – joy and sadness and anger and hope.
The one question on everybody’s lips by the end of Tibetfest: are we doing it again next year? I can’t answer that yet. You’ll have to watch this space.
In the meantime, I’ll end by sharing the poem that Tibetan artist Ugyen wrote for our festival:
to see the morning sun
to breathe fresh air into your soul
to see smile on stranger's face
to be with your nearest and dearest
to walk and talk freely
to follow your dreams
All these things that you are free to do
How wonderful if we can help others to enjoy these rights too
So please help to stop marginalisation and oppression in Tibet and give Tibetans the freedom to be themselves.
Please do support Tibet and FreeTibet.org
- Ugyen Choephell, October 2017
Eleanor is Director of Free Tibet and also of our research partner Tibet Watch. She joined the movement professionally in April 2013, having previously been Director of Casework for legal charity Amicus, where her work focused on the death penalty in the US. With a law degree and an MA in human rights, Eleanor has worked for many other campaigns and projects, including One For Ten, PeaceBrigades International, the Burma Human Rights Documentation Unit and the British Institute of International & Comparative Law. She has been a supporter of Free Tibet since her student days and has supported the Tibetan cause for over 20 years. Read updates from her on Twitter and each month on our blog.