“Art, As Told By” – My Piece on Contemporary Tibetan Art for Gorilla Arthouse and LUSH

Gorilla Arthouse’s Instagram post about my piece on the LUSH website. Photo credit to Selim Korycki.

My Tibet work and my role as Editor of High Peaks Pure Earth has taken me to all sorts of places I couldn’t have imagined. Thanks to the lovely team at International Tibet Network, I’ve been connected to the rather amazing British cosmetics company LUSH and have a piece up on their website on contemporary Tibetan art!

I should go back a few months and mention that LUSH were kind enough to host myself, Kunsang Kelden and Alison Reynolds and Mandie McKeown from International Tibet Network on the Main Stage at their annual LUSH Summit which took place at Tobacco Dock in London on 8-9 February 2017. Even before that, LUSH had been supporting Tibet by donating proceeds of their Charity Pot to International Tibet Network’s work, so cool!

All four of us were blown away by the event where we were given completely free reign to speak for 45 minutes about the current situation in Tibet, art, music and freedom of expression.

Ali and Mandie did a stellar job condensing the situation in Tibet into a short amount of time and also providing an overview of campaigns leading to very concrete steps, such as taking action for detained language advocate Tashi Wangchuk. Kunsang and I focused on creative expressions inside and outside Tibet. I got to highlight the work of Woeser and Kunsang talked about her work on Lhakar Diaries too, focusing on young Tibetan artists.

We loved our day at the Summit and the talk has also been recorded and posted online on the LUSH Player, check out this link to watch the whole thing: http://player.lush.com/tv/summit-supporting-free-speech-tibet-banned-expression

So when I was asked by LUSH’s Gorilla Arthouse to contribute a piece about my views on art, I was thrilled. It was a great chance to think about why art is important and what creative expression says about the situation in Tibet and for Tibetans around the world today. I’m fortunate that all the real work is already done for me by artists and writers such as Woeser, Bhuchung D Sonam, Gade, Tenzing Rigdol and Tashi Norbu!

I’d like to end by thanking LUSH and Gorilla Arthouse (especially Graeme) for the opportunity to reach a new audience and for their support of our Tibet work. Check out Gorilla Arthouse on Facebook here and click through to my article here onto the LUSH website: https://www.facebook.com/GorillaArthouse/posts/1484855598214223

My Interview with Voice of Tibet as part of their “Women of Tibet” Series

Over the weekend I was invited to the Voice of Tibet studio and interviewed about my work as the editor of High Peaks Pure Earth. And because of the series name, I was also asked a couple of questions about womens’ issues in Tibetan society!

It’s great to see this VOT video series and if you understand Tibetan I urge you to check out the other interviews too. My personal favourite is this interview with the remarkable woman behind Dharamsala’s tiny and delicious Woeser Bakery.

Thank you VOT for having me, Tenzin Dickyi la for patiently making sense of my blabbering, to Pedon La and her whole friendly team!

“The Language of Languages” – My Contribution to La.Lit Literary Journal

Below I’m posting an essay I originally wrote a while ago for the Kathmandu based literary journal La.Lit which was published in La.Lit Volume 4 earlier this year. It was fun for me to think about translations for this essay as well as to think about the literary relationship between Nepal and Tibet. 

In the time since this essay was published, I have read about Google including support for Tibetan script in Android but to be honest I haven’t quite understood how this works (!) My phone still doesn’t display Tibetan!

Lastly, many thanks to my friend Iona Liddell for introducing me to the lovely people at La.Lit who are doing an amazing job.

 

La Lit Journal Vol 4

 

“The Language of Languages”
By Dechen Pemba

In October 2012, at an event marking International Translation Day at the British Library in London, I was struck by how Kenyan author Ngugi Wa Thiong’o described the act of translation. He spoke of translation as “the language of languages, the one language that all languages speak”. As someone who grew up bilingual, studied two more languages, and now works full time with translations, I very much liked his idea that somehow all languages have one thing in common, the ability to be translated into another.

This idea reinforced my belief that translation was a priority area when it came to any kind of work related to Tibet. As the editor of High Peaks Pure Earth, a website that monitors social media use by Tibetans and translates blog posts, poetry and music lyrics from Tibetan into English, I both translate and commission translations. In doing this work, I like to think that I am not only bringing the voice of Tibet and Tibetans to a wider world but also contributing to the world of languages and the universal language of translation.

Due to the political situation in Tibet today and long-standing policies of the Chinese government on language, it is necessary to monitor Tibetan blogs, social media and cultural expressions in both Chinese as well as Tibetan languages. It became clear to me in 2008 that whatever information was being made available online by people on the ground, despite being freely accessible (at least for a while), was not getting out due to one simple reason, the language barrier. For example, had it not been for the efforts of China Digital Times, key information being blogged by Tsering Woeser would not have had the impact that it did. Woeser’s documentation of the Tibetan uprising in real time was translated from Chinese into English and made available on almost a daily basis. This proved invaluable throughout 2008, and, Woeser’s blog is now regularly translated into English on the translations website I subsequently co-founded in September 2008.

Though it has racked up close to 500 translations into English alone since them, High Peaks Pure Earth started as a humble blogspot blog and has now expanded into a trilingual website far beyond anything I had envisaged at the beginning. There are regular translations, Tibetan music videos, commentaries, a section for resources (useful for translators) and reading recommendations. For various reasons, it hasn’t been as easy to keep with translations into Chinese and Tibetan and a fully trilingual site with every post available in English, Tibetan and Chinese is still a goal I strive towards.

In 2010, on a trip to New York, I had a memorable lunch with the staff members of the Office of Tibet. We talked about our shared love of literature but also of our concern that Tibetans were missing out on world literature as too little was being translated into Tibetan. We ascertained that there were certain disconnects in the Tibetan community relating to language and, interestingly, the people at the table represented these disconnects. The Liaison Officer for Chinese at the Office, Kunga Tashi, felt comfortable in Chinese and Tibetan, and is very active online on social media in those languages, but not in English. The Liaison Officer for Latin America, Tsewang Phuntso, is active online in English and Spanish and also has a very good level of Tibetan but knows no Chinese. The Special Assistant the Dalai Lama’s Representative to the Americas at the time, Tenzin Dickyi, felt comfortable with Tibetan and English, and is an accomplished translator in those languages in her own right, but has no knowledge of Chinese. As for myself, one reason I had wanted to learn Chinese was to try to be able to build more bridges in the world but that at the end of the day, the language I felt the most comfortable with was English. When it came to Tibetan affairs, Kunga Tashi observed that Tibetans who read Chinese were reading Woeser’s blog, Tibetans who read Tibetan were reading Khabdha.org and Tibetans who read English were reading Phayul.com. Wouldn’t it be great, we mused, if there were one site where all Tibetans could read and exchange with no language barriers? I guess we didn’t realise at the time that we were wishing for a Tibet website written in the language of languages!

But it’s not just disconnects between Tibetans or in gulfs between very different cultures where translation can play a big role. Even when it comes to our neighbouring countries such as Nepal, literary translation has been sorely neglected. It is bewildering to think that two peoples, a great number of whom are fluent in each other’s spoken language, have no written works translated into each other’s languages. There are no comprehensive Tibetan-Nepali dictionaries in existence. Despite the most famous work in Nepali literature, Laxmi Prasad Devkota’s “Muna Madan” being set in Lhasa, there is no commercially available Tibetan translation. In fact, a Tibetan translation was done in Lhasa, from the English (!), on the occasion of the Nepali King’s visit to Tibet and was given as a gift to the Nepali delegation. So how many Tibetans know the work of Devkota and how many Nepalis know the work of Gendun Choephel? Two communities remain totally ignorant of each others’ literary history only because no work has been translated.

There are other Tibetan-run translations projects online that are doing great work. For example, the team at Karkhung.com translate all kinds of articles from English into Tibetan, not just Tibet-related articles but also works of investigative journalism and literary fiction. These acts of translation go far beyond mere words on the screen: translations into our own language contribute towards modernising and enlarging our own culture and play a large part in raising the self-esteem of a nation. We Tibetans can feel proud that our language is not only being translated into other languages but that our language is also more than able to handle and convey complex meanings and ideas from outside. Using our language is akin to asserting our right to exist.

Given that the Tibetan literary tradition goes back to the 7th century and its linguistic influence reaches far across the Himalayas encompassing areas of India, Bhutan, Mongolia, Russia and Pakistan, my pet hate is when Tibetan language is described as “obscure”. I wonder how it is possible that the language of Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhists, comprising of as many as 60 million people, can be wilfully left behind in terms of modern technology? For instance, Google has failed to incorporate a Tibetan font into its Android software, failed to develop a Tibetan language interface and failed to include Tibetan in Google Translate, the most useful of tools. At least Apple has seen the light there.

Imagine a Tibetan education curriculum solely made up of literature in translation – would China allow Tibetan schoolchildren to grow up reading Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, 1984 by George Orwell and Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie? A handful of Tibetan translation projects are by no means enough and in an age of fast media, quick fixes and online translation tools, the humble practice of translation isn’t receiving enough support, recognition or funding. How incredible it would be, to have more translations of Tibetan literature and writings in world languages. Well-trained translators who are fluent in Chinese, English and Tibetan would change the game in terms of our movement when it comes to information and knowledge bases, not to mention the wealth of cultural capital that would be at our fingertips. So to get back to our friend Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, let’s pay more attention to the one language that all languages speak.

Published in Volume 4, 2015, of La.Lit Literary Journal

My First Piece for Huffington Post Published for the Dalai Lama’s 80th Birthday

2015-07-07 HuffPo Screenshot

Just over a week ago I received an email out of the blue asking for a contribution to The Huffington Post to be published on the occasion of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday on 6 July. Initially I had no idea what to write, after all, what is there left to be written about the Dalai Lama? What could someone like me possibly have to add to all the books, articles and posts about him?

But the more I started to think about it, all these memories started to come to me that were related to the Dalai Lama. Strong memories from my several trips to Tibet over a span of almost 15 years and also childhood memories of getting days off school just so we could go to London for the day for an audience with him.

I somehow combined these few things for my Huffington Post contribution, throwing in some references to songs and writings from Tibet as well. The final piece is online here:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dechen-pemba/kundun-the-presence-of-an-absence_b_7739666.html

A big thank you to everyone who made this happen! Thank you to the Huffington Post editors for extremely quick work.

Press Release: “Banned Expression in Tibet” Event in London to Highlight Tibet’s Creative Resistance

hashtag 1280x720 white on red copy

Press Release, 20.06.2015

For immediate release

“Banned Expression in Tibet” Event in London to Highlight Tibet’s Creative Resistance

Exile Tibetans based in the UK will amplify the voices behind Tibet’s creative resistance at an event on 20 June called “Banned Expression in Tibet” which will be held at Kings Place.

The event will focus on the Tibetan singers, poets and writers who express themselves creatively at great personal risk. Through a programme of live musical performances, poetry readings and short talks, Tibet’s vibrant and defiant creative spirit will come to life.

“Banned Expression in Tibet” will be hosted by UK-born Dechen Pemba, editor of the translations website High Peaks Pure Earth, and-US born Kunsang Kelden, co-founder of the Tibetan youth blog Lhakar Diaries.

“For the past few years, Tibetan artists inside Tibet have been producing incredibly bold expressions of creative defiance in the form of songs, poetry and writings. It is our intention to amplify these expressions that come at a heavy price in Tibet. We are fortunate here in the UK to have talented Tibetan musicians and performers to support our fellow Tibetans and showcase their work”, said Dechen Pemba.

Ugyen Choephell, a Tibetan artist, poet and musician, said: “We Tibetans will never give up our Tibetan identity. This is the most powerful tool we can have and wherever we are, no one can take that away from us. That’s why I’m happy to perform at “Banned Expression in Tibet”, to express my identity proudly and to honour the artistry in Tibet today.”

Artists and performers will include Dechen Pemba, Kunsang Kelden, Ugyen Choephell and Youdon Aukatsang. The “Banned Expression” campaign is a joint project of High Peaks Pure Earth, Voice of Tibet and Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy.

“As Tibetan artists continue to be censored, repressed and imprisoned, it is important to create platforms for Tibetan artistic expressions round the world.”

Freemuse – world’s leading organisation advocating freedom of expression for musicians


Tickets: Tickets are priced £9.50 online: http://www.kingsplace.co.uk/whats-on-book-tickets/spoken-word/renaissance-series-banned-expression-in-tibet

Location: Kings Place, 90 York Way, London, N1 9AG

Kings Place Box office: 020 7520 1490

Available: Press tickets & interviews with the Tibetan artists

Contact: Dechen Pemba, Editor of High Peaks Pure Earth

EMail: hpeaks [@] highpeakspureearth [ . ] com

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/freespeechtibet

-ENDS-

My Profile in Radio Free Asia’s e-Book “It’s Not OK: Women Struggling for Human Rights”

RFA Its Not OK Portrait

Illustration by Steve Fuchs

Happy International Womens Day! I’m thrilled to be able to post today about an exciting new e-Book that has been compiled by Radio Free Asia called “It’s Not OK: Women Struggling for Human Rights”.

The e-Book is the second edition of “It’s Not OK”, profiling the lives, work, and sacrifice of women from Asian countries and regions under authoritarian rule taking up the fight for human rights on their families’ and communities’ behalf. I am honoured to have been included in the profiles, here is the link to mine which is titled “Stars On A Sunny Day”: http://www.womensrights.asia/rfa_dechen_pemba.html

Thank yous go to Tenzin Tethong la and Dan Southerland at RFA and an extra big thank you to Catherine Antoine, Managing Editor at RFA Online, for interviewing me and for all her work on this project.

The e-Book is actually a whole multi-media project with a great website, videos, illustrations and fascinating, even if tough, stories from all over Asia, well worth checking out all of it! The book is available for free on the iTunes Store and Google Play.